Despite Atrocities, Some Rwandans Show Spirit of Reconciliation

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

TENTATIVE signs of a spirit of reconciliation are surfacing in Rwanda among Tutsi survivors of the Hutu-led genocide that began in April.

Without such reconciliation, this picturesque yet tragic nation has little chance of avoiding further violence in the future.

Reconciliation must be the priority of the new RPF government, says a Belgian diplomat here. ``The RPF won the war, but they still have to win the peace.... Let's hope the desire for revenge stays under control.'' Survivors' stories

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A young Tutsi rebel of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), while hitching a ride in a United Nations vehicle on a road north of here, says five of his seven brothers and sisters were killed by Hutus. But in the next breath, he quietly says Rwanda needs to integrate Hutus and Tutsis to avoid never-ending cycles of revenge.

Deep in a poor neighborhood, where streets are dirt alleys between one- or two-room homes, Ladisilas Mugarura, a Tutsi, talks of ``good Hutus,'' even including some involved in the killings.

For more than two months, Mr. Mugarura hid in his tiny, whitewashed, mud-brick home off an alley in the Kamicanga neighborhood of Kigali to avoid being killed by Hutus. He was kept alive with the help of a Hutu shopkeeper who risked his life to bring him food each day before dawn.

But in addition to praising his shopkeeper neighbor, Emanuel Sebahire, Mugarura also expresses understanding for those unwilling Hutus caught up in the hysteria of the killing.

``Those [Hutus] who didn't want to kill someone were killed'' unless they managed to escape, he says while sitting by lantern light in his living room.

The room is furnished with only a few chairs and a trunk covered with a tapestry. On the wall is a map of Africa, one of Rwanda, and a mat inscribed: ``We pray to God, who is our light.''

``For me, even if the interahamwe [Hutu death squads] came back [to live here], it would be no problem,'' he adds.

From a corner of the living room, Jean-Claude Kwizera, a young Tutsi whose parents were slain in the genocide, says some interahamwe at the roadblocks - where many Tutsi were stopped and killed - protected Tutsis. He is living temporarily in a small store, sleeping on a mattress on the floor with another Tutsi whose parents were killed. The store is like many commercial buildings here that have been abandoned by Hutus and reoccupied by Tutsis, especially those returning from years in exile.

It is impossible to judge how widespread this spirit of reconciliation is in Rwanda. Nor can one be sure that most Tutsis could forgive the Hutu killers of their family or friends, if such an encounter should occur.

A thorough system of discipline to control revenge attacks by RPF soldiers has not yet emerged, especially in areas outside the capital, despite statements of concern by top RPF government officials.

What is urgently needed, the diplomat says, is establishment of an administrative structure in Rwanda, and efforts to establish ``law and order.'' But so far, most of the government's new ministers do not have enough staff and supplies to write letters, much less set up judiciary and other administrative systems, the diplomat adds.

Reemerging social system

But some social systems, including relations between Hutus and Tutsis, are reemerging, as the visit to Mugarura showed. The close-knit social patterns in the Kamicanga neighborhood are reestablishing themselves. Neighbors drop in on neighbors; everyone meets at Mr. Sebahire's shop or one of the others along the dirt alleys.

But there is a major change: Most of the Hutus are gone; the neighborhood is mostly Tutsi now.

A walk through the back alleys reveals numerous houses with chained and padlocked doors. Some belong to people who fled the violence, but most belong to people who fled after committing violence. Mugarura says ``the majority'' of Hutus in his neighborhood participated in the killings, willingly or unwillingly.

A few doors away from his home, three young girls sing hymns as they eat dinner by candlelight. Their Hutu parents fled the killings and became separated from the children in the panic.

The family are good Hutus, says Mugarura as he escorts his visitors back to a main road.

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