Nyamiagbe, Rwanda — How to curb the violence in Rwanda and Burundi is the question facing the United Nations Security Council and others. No one has offered a viable plan. The two countries have been fighting civil wars since the early 1990s but have been involved in internecine warfare for centuries. For Burundi, the Security Council has proposed deploying a U.N. peacekeeping force to be paid by permanent member states and composed of soldiers from African nations.
But its Hutu rebels and Tutsi-led army are hostile to the idea, with Tutsi students even taking to the streets to protest in the capital, Bujumbura. In Rwanda, Tutsi leaders are no more eager to see an expanded international presence. They are already leery of U.N. and other human-rights observers who, in addition to monitoring rebel abuses, have recently begun denouncing government abuses.
The rising tide of instability has alarmed both countries’ neighbors, with Tanzania leading an African economic embargo against Burundi over its coup last month. Demonstrating that there are limits to even ethnic alliances, Rwanda unexpectedly signed on, although Defense Minister Paul Kagame initially waffled. Joining the embargo makes him look like a Democrat, thereby lessening the chance that Rwanda, too, might some day become the target of sanctions.
But although the embargo may help persuade Burundi’s leaders to accept some form of accommodation with Hutu politicians, free elections in both countries are still ruled out. Tutsi army leaders talk about interethnic reconciliation, even emphasizing that most Hutus in each country are innocent of participation in past abuses. Yet they remain unwilling to relinquish control of their armies, or to allow a process that is certain to elect Hutu candidates.
Neither are the leaders in either country willing to negotiate with Hutu rebels. Shortly after Burundi’s newly installed leader, Pierre Buyoya, said that he wanted a “frank and honest national debate” with opposition groups including rebel leaders, he announced that his military government plans to stay in power for at least three years.Rwanda’s military leaders are not even willing to talk with the rebels. “What would be the terms of negotiations? ” Lt. Col. Kayizali Caesar asked. “Now the rebels are killing survivors of the genocide. So where is the basis for compromise?”
Instead, both countries’ leaders want the Hutu rebels shut down. Indeed, international observers agree that the military organization the rebels have built in and around refugee camps in eastern Zaire should be dismantled.
The camps from which they operate are well known, and include the ones near Goma at Mugunga and Lac Vert, with about 200,000 people combined. The rebel leadership has even established a headquarters just west of Lac Vert blatantly known as the Etat Major, or High Command.
Farther south near Bukavu, the rebels dominate 100,000 refugees in the camps at Kashusha and Inera. Even farther south near Uvira, Burundian rebels operate among 21,000 refugees in Kanganiro camp.But no one is sure who should break up those armed rebel organizations. The United Nations and its member states have yet to volunteer for the job. Some international observers think Zaire should do it, even though its corrupt and ill-disciplined forces hardly seem up to the task.
Nor has the government led by President Mobutu Sese Seko demonstrated much will to act. Mobutu has threatened since last year to close the camps and expel the refugees, but their presence has made him a key player in the region, and he is using them to obtain favors including foreign aid.
Another problem would be how to separate the perpetrators of Rwanda’s past genocide and other abuses from the other refugees. Even among those who did not participate in the slaughter of Tutsis in 1994, many nonetheless stood by and watched. “On some level everybody” is guilty, one international official said. “But on another, so many of these people are brainwashed about what Tutsi forces would do to them if they were to go home. ”