Wake Up on Rwanda
THE fragile progress made in Rwanda in recent months threatens to dissolve into more chaos, suffering, and warfare unless the international community quickly shows a firm resolve to prevent it.Skip to next paragraph
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The dangers come both from within Rwanda and from the camps in Zaire, where some 1 million refugees sit, wait, and hope to return someday.
In Kigali, a vicious circle has emerged between the fledgling Tutsi government (which desperately needs aid to create stability) and relief agencies (who want to see stability before granting aid). The government has been unable to pay soldiers for several months. The army is fast losing discipline. Soldiers are resorting to looting, intimidation, and extortion.
But relief groups and donor nations want assurances that military discipline and respect for human rights have been established before helping the new government. The UN High Commissioner on Refugees and Amnesty International have reported widespread violence by Tutsis, including soldiers, since the Rwandan Patriotic Front took power (though these atrocities are still dwarfed by the Hutu massacre of some 500,000 Rwandans earlier this year).
Across the border in Zaire, relief groups are beginning to abandon the refugee camps. Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) left five camps Nov. 15, saying they had been taken over by Hutu troops who brutalize refugees and threaten aid workers. The soldiers, about 30,000 of them, prevent refugees from returning home and grab relief supplies for themselves. They plot to invade Rwanda and reignite the civil war.
International aid groups in Rwanda need to judge what is in the long-term interests of stability in deciding how to work with the new government - and then act quickly. They must trust that their donors will understand the complex situation they face.
The conditions in the camps once again test the resolve of UN members. UN troops are urgently needed to separate the sheep from the wolves - to disarm the Hutu soldiers and move them to separate camps farther away from the Rwandan border.
These are not easy tasks. But to stand by and risk a second round of massive bloodletting is unacceptable.