The menu at La Villa reads like a manual of high culinary art. Slivered roast duck and poached lobster come beautifully laid out in platters as the high notes of a Bach concerto hang in the palm-cooled air of the fanciest restaurant in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda.
But the clink of silverware against the fine china and the hum of conversation in impeccable French contrasts brutally with the latest news reports. At least 300 people were killed last week in a failed attempt by ethnic Hutu rebels to free suspects jailed for the 1994 genocide that left about 800,000 people, mostly Tutsis, dead.
Underneath the trappings of normality, in a country where the images of bodies clogging the streets and waterways remain etched in the minds of genocide survivors, fear runs like an electric current.
"Deep underneath the surface, everything is tainted," says a Western aid worker who lives in the capital.
In the streets of Kigali, as in the villages wedged in Rwanda's hills, everyone has a story about the genocide. And nearly three years after the bloodletting, an obstinate, Hutu-led insurgency in the north is exacerbating tensions between the 9 percent Tutsi minority and the Hutu majority, many of whom are suspected of having taken part in the genocide.
So far, the rebels, many of whose leaders participated in the genocide, have taken more of a psychological toll than a military one.
"These so-called rebels are the same people who committed atrocities in 1994. Three years later, they are still trying to finish off what they started," says Claude Dusaidi, a government official and close aide to the country's de facto leader, Maj. Gen. Paul Kagame, whose troops toppled the then-Hutu government in 1994, halting the genocide.
The rebellion is hardening at a time when the Tutsi leadership is trying to absorb hundreds of thousands of Hutu refugees who returned last year, fleeing the civil war in the former Zaire.
With the stark logic of numbers forcing the Tutsi elite into a policy recently characterized as "control at all cost" over the vast Hutu majority, many worry that genuine reintegration may be too premature a concept.
Although confined to the northwest, the insurgency has also given the Army a good excuse to curb the powers of the civilian government.
"The civilian government is definitely weak, but it only makes sense at this stage, whether we like it or not," one Western observer says. "These are people who have fought together and have developed strong bonds of solidarity."
Gerad Prunier, the author of the most-extensive work on the Rwandan genocide, "The Rwanda Crisis," recently maintained in a report that the bulk of Hutu returnees have been confined to the hills to "practice basic peasant agriculture." According to Mr. Prunier, Hutus who qualify for salaried jobs have little or no chance of getting one. The result, he concludes, is a virtual monopoly of the economy by the Tutsi elite.
Many analysts, however, disagree. "Hutus who had jobs in banks and schools left this country voluntarily and stayed away," counters the Western observer. "They didn't always get their job when they got back, but that's the way it works in most countries."
Still, few would dispute Prunier's analysis of the two communities' present attitude: "For the Tutsi, it is: 'Unless we maintain absolute control, they will finish us next time.' And for the Hutu: 'We only have to wait, numbers will play in our favor and the so-called international community will neither want [to] nor be able to stop us.' "
There have been considerable efforts by the government to change these attitudes. A recently instituted program is bringing social workers into villages and camps to change the two groups' perception of each other. But such efforts will yield results only in the long run.
"The worst thing that could have happened in the world happened here in Rwanda," notes the Western observer. "The country has a long way to go.... At the same time, Rwandans know they are all together on a small boat, and it's leaking."