AT a time when the world is wrestling with ethnic conflagrations, the small African nation of Rwanda is attempting to resolve a decades-old rivalry involving costly tribal wars and the flight of more than 1 million refugees.
Under a peace pact signed Aug. 4, the government and rebels of the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) are to create an interim coalition government and undertake a delicate merger of their armies.
The pact would allow an estimated 500,000 to 600,000 Tutsi refugees to return home after years in neighboring Uganda.
But with some ethnic extremists active in Rwanda and misgivings about past atrocities still strong, the political future here remains uncertain. And there is unease about some of the concessions made by the government, particularly among the military.
As with many ethnic conflicts, Rwanda's strife is rooted in economic differences and jealousies, regional tensions magnified by politicians, and resentment stemming from years of killings.
The minority Tutsi ethnic group, who make up 14 percent of the population, and the more numerous Hutu people, 85 percent, have lived side by side for centuries in these rugged hills and narrow, lush valleys. In traditional Rwandan society, the Tutsi were the royal family, army commanders, and cattle owners. Those who grew crops were mostly Hutu. The Twa, the remaining 1 percent of the population, were hunters and potters.
"The system was more one of class than ethnicity," explains a February 1991 report by the US Committee for Refugees, a Washington-based advocacy group.
Belgian colonial rulers in Rwanda relied on the Tutsi to help administer the country and in turn favored them with educational opportunities.
In the late 1950s, local Rwandan politicians "exploited rapidly growing tensions between the groups, and parties appealing exclusively to Hutu or Tutsi flourished," states a June 1993 report on Rwanda by the human rights organization Africa Watch.
In November 1959, a month after an all-Hutu party was formed, Tutsi activists attacked a Hutu political leader, sparking a round of clashes. Hundreds of people, primarily Tutsi, were killed. The Hutu position grew stronger as they won local elections in 1960. In 1962, the year of Rwanda's independence, the Hutu gained the first presidency.
In response to an attack on December 21, 1963, by Tutsi refugees from Burundi, the Hutu massacred more than 10,000 Tutsi. An additional 10,000 people were killed between 1959 and 1966, according to Africa Watch.
War in Rwanda broke out on Oct. 1, 1990, as the Tutsi-led rebel movement, the RPF, attacked from their strongholds in neighboring Uganda, calling for a democratic Rwanda. When a peace pact was signed this month about 500,000 Tutsi refugees were allowed to return to Rwanda. Two-thirds of some 900,000 other Rwandese, mostly Hutus, who were internally displaced have also returned home.
"There are days I'm optimistic [about peace] and days when I'm not. The war was necessary," says one Tutsi in Kigali. "The political will [of the government] was not there to bring back the refugees."
Peace on paper has not removed suspicions or doubts on either side. "For us, the war has not finished," says Col. Theoneste Bems Bagosora, a senior officer in the Rwandan government Army. "To end the war we have to create confidence."
He is not happy with a concession the government made - 40 percent of the Army will be Tutsi. Some 600 RPF soldiers are due to arrive in Kigali to guard the five Tutsi members of the new 21-member Cabinet and other RPF personnel. The merger "will be painful," says Colonel Bagosora.
Mathieu Ngirumpatse, head of the National Republican Movement for Democracy and Development, the government party, concedes that the government made "mistakes" in not allowing the refugees to return sooner and in not appointing more Tutsis to key posts. But he rejects as "dangerous" Tutsi demands to throw out of office the Hutus in key positions. He predicts that when elections are held by June 1995, "Hutu will come together" against the Tutsi.
Yet economic and regional differences ally some Hutu and Tutsi against others, says Faustin Twagiramungu, a Hutu businessman and advocate for multiparty politics. Under the peace pact, he will become prime minister of the new coalition government.
In an interview, he called for a fresh political start for Rwanda based on "the rule of law.... People must be taught how to respect each other." But his critics say the maneuvering he used to be named coalition prime minister, and squabbling between Hutu-dominated parties, does not indicate a fresh start.