AFRICA'S newest peace accord, in the tiny nation of Rwanda, is aimed at ending not only three years of war but more than three decades of periodic ethnic massacres.
The US State Department welcomed the Aug. 4 agreement, describing the war in Rwanda as "one of Africa's most dangerous and persistent conflicts."
Since 1959, more than 10,000 Tutsi, a minority ethnic group, have been slaughtered by Hutu majority-dominated government forces, according to the human rights group Africa Watch. The predominantly Tutsi rebel movement, the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), went to war in October 1990 to guarantee the safe return of more than 1 million Tutsi and others who have fled the country, and to win a fair share of political power for ethnic minorities.
First reactions in Monitor interviews with representatives of the rebels and the government of President Juvenal Habyarimana are that the pact, signed Aug. 4, is likely to hold.
"I think it's a real one," says Cyrie Sendashonga, a Rwandan biologist living in Nairobi who supports the rebel moment and was present at the signing of the pact, in the northern Tanzanian town of Arusha.
"I think we have good will on both sides," agrees Cypriel Habimana, Rwanda's ambassador to Kenya.
In a time of international intervention in key conflicts, such as Somalia, Angola, and the former Yugoslavia, the Rwandan settlement is an exception: an African solution to an African problem, without much help from countries beyond the continent.
The Organization of African Unity (OAU), often criticized for its lack of involvement in the internal affairs of its members, accepted an invitation by both sides in July 1992 to provide a neutral group of military observers. Though numbering only a few dozen members, the group operated effectively, according to a June report by Africa Watch.
The OAU force is expected to be increased to about 150 soon, and will work with a small United Nations peacekeeping force of about 600, whose arrival date is not yet set, Ambassador Habimana says.
THE presidents of neighboring countries, most notably Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, also worked hard to keep the peace negotiations alive. Signing of the pact was postponed four times in recent months due to last-minute disagreements.
Wednesday's agreement outlines a power-sharing plan:
* A transitional government, composed of a Hutu prime minister acceptable to both sides and a 21-member Cabinet in which the rebels will have five seats, will assume power Sept. 15.
* Multiparty presidential and parliamentary elections are to be held by mid-1995.
* The government and rebel forces will form a united military. Under the pact, the Tutsis will supply 40 percent of the troops, even though they comprise only about 15 percent of the population, and the government will supply the other 60 percent, says Habimana.
But there are still concerns over the security of the returning Tutsis.
As the two armies begin to integrate, both sides are supposed to declare and turn in their weapons. Yet "there are rumors that the government has been busy distributing arms left and right [to Hutu supporters]," Dr. Sendashonga says. Such arms might not be declared and could be used against the opponents of the government," he adds.
Such concerns are based on history. Of the estimated 10,000 Tutsi killed between 1959 and 1966, almost half of them were slaughtered in December 1963 in retribution for an attack by some Tutsi refugees, Africa Watch says.
About 300 Tutsis and members of political opposition parties were massacred in northwestern Rwanda in late January this year, Africa Watch concludes in its June report.
But the study condemns both the government and the RPF rebels for killing and abusing civilians in the war.
There are concerns that the return of 1 million refugees might swamp the resources of the small, poor nation. Rwanda, with 7.4 million people and a per capita income of only $260 a year, is one of the most crowded and poorest countries in the world.
If neighboring countries, struggling with their own economies, push the refugees out all at once, the human tide could swamp Rwanda. "That's what we fear," Habimana says.
Another 1 million Rwandans were displaced within the country, though several hundred thousand have begun returning home, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.