Ethnic strife remains the enemy of progress in Rwanda, Congo, and other parts of central Africa. The past week's trip there by US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright could help repel that enemy, if it is followed by an enduring commitment to development aid, humanitarian relief, and institution building.
Ironically, or perhaps by perverse design, Ms. Albright's arrival in Rwanda coincided with a vicious attack on a Tutsi refugee camp in the country's northeastern corner. The attack was an extension of the genocidal terror that engulfed Rwanda in 1994, when half a million Tutsis and moderate Hutu lost their lives.
The raiders were Hutu guerrillas forced out of neighboring Congo (formerly Zaire) during the recent revolution there. The fighting in Congo also scattered thousands of Hutu civilian refugees who had fled Rwanda after 1994, when a new government was installed by Tutsi-led forces. Many of those Hutu refugees are thought to have perished in Congo at the hands of the soldiers who brought Laurent Kabila to power there.
The immediate needs are obvious: food and armed protection for the still large numbers of refugees. Just as important is help in building a functioning system of justice in Rwanda. More than 120,000 Hutu are in custody on suspicion of involvement in the genocide. Their plight in overcrowded lockups feeds Hutu reaction and hate propaganda.
Officials in Rwanda are doing what they can to hasten the administration of justice, including working out plea bargains with many of the accused. Those who confess and express remorse get lighter sentences. Full trial and punishment is reserved for key perpetrators.
Constant, sharply focused international attention is required to move this process along. The war crimes tribunal, UN investigators (probing incidents like the alleged massacres in Congo), assistance in meeting the basic physical needs of displaced people, longer-term development aid - all are crucial.
Albright was forthright in admitting that the response of the US and the UN three years ago should have been better. Let's hope her trip, making contact with heads of state in the region and pledging to work with them (while keeping an eye on their human rights records) marks a lasting commitment.