Rwanda: A Future Without War?

The new Tutsi-led government warns of potential problems from Tutsi revenge-seekers and rebel Hutus

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

RWANDA could one day explode into another war of massacres unless the new Tutsi-dominated government reconciles the Tutsi minority with the defeated Hutu majority, says Rwanda's new prime minister, Faustin Twagiramungu.

And right now potential flash points could reignite ethnic violence, though probably not a war, warn the new government leaders here, and the senior United Nations military official in Rwanda, Maj. Gen. Romeo Dallaire.

One flash point is a ``revengeful'' attitude by some Tutsi rebels, according to the prime minister; another, says General Dallaire, is the presence of armed Hutu militia and soldiers still in southwestern Rwanda, in the so-called French safety zone.

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``If there is no reconciliation, we can't have a nation,'' Mr. Twagiramungu said in an interview this week. ``If the Tutsi say, `We'll rule the Hutus with overwhelming power,' it [Rwanda] explodes.''

Reconciliation will not be simple, but the prime minister believes it is achievable. He says the main divisions in Rwandan society have been economic and political, not ethnic. He blames the previous Hutu government for using ethnicity as a basis for whipping up hatred of the Tutsi, who led the rebel movement against the government.

Some Tutsi victors take revenge

An immediate problem is that some Tutsi rebel officers ``are still revengeful,'' Twagiramungu says. Several people have been executed on the spot here in Kigali, the capital, and other parts of the country, according to UN officials and Rwandan residents.

One Tutsi rebel killed a man whom he accused of massacring the rebel's entire family. He then reported the deed to his superiors in the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a Western relief official said here.

Such killings are bound to stir up fears among Hutus, including those who may not have participated in the massacres. The UN says at least 500,000 people, mostly Tutsi, were killed by Hutu civilian militias, the Army of the defeated government, and individuals since April, when the civil war erupted anew after less than a year of peace.

Paul Kagame, who led the RPF to victory and is now the RPF-appointed vice president and minister of defense, acknowledges indiscipline among his troops.

``I've heard people have been grabbing houses,'' he told reporters here this week. ``We'll throw them out ... when the owners come,'' he said.

Restoring security is the government's No. 1 domestic priority, Twagiramungu says. But the RPF does not yet control the so-called French safety zone in the southwestern corner of Rwanda. And inside the zone, there are still a lot of weapons and anti-RPF forces, Dallaire says.

``There are some 3,000 to 5,000 troops [of the former Rwandan Army] still in there; there are gendarme [police] and interahamwe [armed Hutu militia],'' he said. ``They hide their weapons, then come out at night,'' and they still have fuel for their vehicles, he says.

The key to keeping the lid on things in the French zone will be how the transfer is made between the French, who say they are departing Aug. 21, and the United Nations, who is supposed to get extra troops for the job.

The United States now says it will send about 4,000 troops into Rwanda on relief missions, which could include the French zone. US Defense Secretary William Perry has said that number could grow higher if a system is set up to help refugees return to Rwanda.

The US may become the de facto interim international presence in the area until UN troop strength is built up. ``If we go in there soft, we could open the door for those guys [the Hutu militia and Army now refugees in Zaire] to come home,'' Dallaire says. ``We have to go in with the same vigor [as the French].''

More UN troops needed

But the UN only has about 750 troops in Rwanda. Dallaire says another 1,000 troops have been committed to come, but he still needs 2,300 more for a total of about 4,000. He also has requested that his superiors seek a UN Security Council authorization for greater use of force by his troops.

Nevertheless, Dallaire expresses doubt that an all-out war is likely in the southwestern part of Rwanda, given the scattering of many of the defeated troops to Zaire. Charles Petrie, a UN emergency officer who toured the French zone this week, says many of the hard-line Hutu leaders have fled the area, leaving mostly Hutu moderates, many of whom would like to return to their homes.

This week about 50,000 people from the area did start walking home, out of the French zone, he says, from Kibuye into areas controlled by the RPF.

Twagiramungu, however, says fighting might break out in the southwest; but he's not worried about it. ``How long will it last?'' he asks, indicating the RPF could mop up any resistance fairly quickly.

The UN's Mr. Petrie says the French are disarming the Army as it flees to Zaire. But a French officer here says the French are only taking those arms they see; they are not hunting for them. Arms are going to be ``a big problem'' in that area, the officer says, speaking anonymously.

Kagame says, ``If it remains to the RPF to do it [disarmament in the French zone], we'll do it.'' He made it clear that the RPF wants control over the area, and soon.

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