Grim Testimony from the Dead of Two Years Ago

Nyamiagabe, Rwanda — Sights, sounds and even the smell of violence frequently remain etched in memory long after they have occurred. The stench of rotting cadavers will stay with you a good while after you’ve turned away. The surroundings had given no hint of the remains laid out inside the cinder-block classrooms: a hilltop breeze passing through eucalyptus trees, and fields of black earth planted with sorghum, sweet potatoes, and corn.

Two years after the government says they were slain, the victims’ fragile-looking skeletons and skulls have withered to a dusty gray in what was once a village school, permanent testimony to their brutal killing. Bits of flesh, tufts of thick black hair and strips of clothing cling to some. They lie frozen in final gestures: Some are curled up in a fetal ball as if cowering or nursing wounds; others have both arms around their heads, finger bones clenched in defiance; here a child clings to its mother.

Some skeletons are well over 6 feet long, fitting the image of East Central Africa’s tallest people, the Tutsis. In Rwanda’s genocide, more than 500,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus perished. Roughly half the Tutsi population was killed. Thousands of others fled to neighboring countries.

Now they are returning.

Many Tutsis Are Strangers in Their Own Homeland

Most of Rwanda’s new Tutsis hardly know the country they call their homeland.

After Hutus first seized power in Rwanda during the early 1960s amid the region’s transition to independence (in Burundi, the Tutsis never lost power), more than 150,000 Tutsis fled to Uganda and other countries. There they eventually grew to more than 1 million.

Minorities in foreign lands, they were made scapegoats by dictators including Uganda’s Milton Obote and Idi Amin. That led many Tutsis to join forces with Ugandan guerrillas led by Yoweri Museveni, who seized power there in 1986.

Some Tutsis, including Paul Kagame, the leader of Rwanda’s new army, and Kayizali Caesar, one of his most respected field commanders, served as senior officers in Museveni’s army.

In October 1990, after almost 30 years in exile, both men returned to Rwanda, leading an invasion force of Tutsi guerrillas armed with Ugandan weapons. They won their battle in July 1994.

Caesar is now the field commander for southern Rwanda, bordering volatile Burundi and anarchical Zaire. His enemies are the Rwandan Hutu rebels who operate among 1.7 million Hutu refugees throughout the region, about one-fourth of Rwanda’s pre-genocide Hutu population, who two years ago fled the country in the face of advancing Tutsi fighters.

The rebel leaders are the same men who during the genocide encouraged Hutus to put aside their differences and exterminate the “cockroaches” (Tutsis).

Central African Conflict: Rwanda and Burundi Sink into Abyss of a Long War

Nyamiagabe, Rwanda — Recent killings by Hutu rebels in Rwanda and Burundi, and retaliatory attacks by the Tutsi-dominated army in each country indicate that the combatants are digging in for protracted war.

Such a development would scuttle efforts by African leaders and international mediators to bring stability to the East Central African region and prevent widespread bloodletting.

In recent months, Hutu rebels in Burundi and Rwanda have begun making the successful transition from a conventional to an insurgent force, increasingly hiding among the local populations rather than returning to camps in Zaire after attacks, observers say.

They are battling Tutsis who control the government and military in both countries, yet make up only 15 percent of each country’s population. The rebels sometimes coordinate efforts from their respective bases across both countries’ borders in eastern Zaire.

Last month, Hutu rebels massacred more than 300 Tutsi civilians in Gitega province in the heart of Burundi, leading to a coup.

Amnesty International accused the Tutsi-led army of retaliating by killing more than 200 Hutu civilians in the same region during a military operation lasting several days.

Similarly in Rwanda, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports that Hutu rebels have killed more than 100 witnesses and other survivors of Hutu-led genocide in Cyangugu, Gisenyi and Ruhengeri provinces near the border with Zaire. In Gisenyi and Ruhengeri, the Tutsi-controlled army has killed at least 132 people suspected of supporting the rebels, the U.N. says.

“Civilians are completely caught in the middle,” said one international observer in Gisenyi. “If they report rebel activity, the rebels will kill them. And if they don’t, the government may kill them. ”

Most of the victims in Rwanda since 1990 have been Tutsis, although its president is a Hutu. More than 500,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered by Hutus there in genocide that began in April 1994.

In Burundi, more than 150,000 Tutsis and Hutus have been killed since 1993, after Tutsi army officers assassinated the country’s first elected Hutu president.

The slaughter shows no sign of a letup as the rebel forces move from camps in Zaire to the provinces and assume the role of an insurgency. In recent months, Hutu rebels have infiltrated farther into each country, stoking Tutsi fears and cries for vengeance for the recent genocide, U.N. officials say.

More than 500,000 Tutsis who fled the Hutu regime in Rwanda have also returned, protected by an army of Tutsis that was unable to prevent the genocide against their brethren who never left Rwanda, but who, three frenzied months after it started, overthrew the Hutu government that was responsible for their deaths.

Changing their name from the Rwandan Patriotic Front guerrillas to the Rwandan Patriotic Army, these Tutsi fighters and their military commanders rule Rwanda today.

But deep distrust remains between the government and the governed.

A Tutsi going by the name “Francois” said he never left Rwanda and claimed to get along now with his Hutu and Tutsi neighbors.

As a truckload of soldiers drove by, toward Zaire and the site of recent fighting, Francois was asked what he thought of Rwanda’s new army.

“Bad,” he said in French, immediately raising his hands and extending his fingers as if he were holding a rifle: “They shoot too much. ”

And what about the Hutu rebels?

“No, I’m not with them,” he responded quietly without animation.

Hutus and Tutsis have a long history of enmity.

From the 16th century until independence, Tutsi kings and lords dominated the East Central African region, owning most of the land and cattle and treating the Hutu masses not unlike serfs in medieval Europe.

Tutsi kings had their own ways of dealing with resisters. One was to hang the genitals of their vanquished enemies on a symbol of divine power known as the Kalinga, or sacred drum.

Now the coals of hate are hot again.

Tutsis, Hutus Oppose Increased International Presence

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. ”

U.S. adviser comes under fire in El Salvador

Original article can be found here.

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador – A U.S. military advisor at a Salvadoran army base came under fire yesterday in an early morning rebel attack that killed three Salvadoran soldiers, but he apparently managed to escape unharmed.

It is at least the fourth reported attack involving U.S. advisers since they were deployed in El Salvador in 1980.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Barry Jacobs confirmed that a U.S. operations, planning and training officers was present at the army engineering base in Zacatecoluca, 35 miles southeast of the capital. But Jacobs denied that the adviser came under fire or was in any immediate danger.

A tape-recording of the advisor’s radio report to military superiors in San Salvador paints a different picture, however. The report indicates that the advisor considered himself to be in immediate danger. A tape of the transmission was obtained by a correspondent for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

The unidentified adviser, using the code name Commando Two Zero, contacted a U.S. Special Forces officer identified at Rotelo at headquarters in San Salvador about 4:30 a.m.

“Hello, Commando Two Zero” reporting.

“Go ahead, over.”

“Listen in. The —- hitting the fan pretty bad out here. I’m getting out of here…I’m… I’m bailing out of here. I’m getting out of here…I’m breaking through. So if I can make… Don’t worry about it. I’ll get out of here… and, ah… I’ll rendezvous with whoever comes out tomorrow, over.”

“Roger, I understand… S.D.O. (staff duty officer) is on the way. Stand by.”

The U.S. adviser said the rebels were using automatic weapons, rampas, or homemade catapult bombs, and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

The adviser initially referred to the rebel action as an exploratory “probe” but said it later turned into an attack.

“Commando Two Zero, Rotelo. Go ahead, over.”

“Yeah, the probe has turned into a… an attack from the northeast. We got, ah… three wounded already. We have one blindado (armor-plated vehicle) in ambush… and we got one kid-–he’s in pretty bad shape… he’s probably going to go away. And we got two wounded, over.”

“This is Rotelo. Roger, I understand, anything else? Over.”

“Commando Two Zero out.”

The guerillas and soldiers battled for three hours, according to officials there, including base commander Col. Benjamin Canjura.

Canjura said three soldiers were killed, including a major. Two soldiers died when a rocket-propelled grenade hit the truck in which they were traveling; 13 others were wounded in the fighting, Canjura said.

There is no indication that the U.S. adviser sustained injury.

The guerillas also attacked an important army base in the capital, killing two civilians who lived nearby, officials said.

The early morning attack on the 4,000-member 1st Brigade’s headquarters was the fifth on a major military installation in San Salvador since November. With jurisdiction over the capital and its environs, the brigade headquarters is considered the country’s most important military installation.

Col. Orlando Zepeda, commander of the 1st Army Brigade, said there were not casualties inside the downtown base and that damage was negligible, but he refused to allow journalists inside.

The rebels used two pickups fitted with catapults. The detonation of one explosive charge launches the bombs and simultaneously blows up the vehicle.

The explosion of one of the vehicles killed Pedro Martinez, about 70 years old, and his wife, Maria Teresa, about 65, who lived in a house near the headquarters.

A Western official said he knew of only three occasions when U.S. advisers have engaged in combat in El Salvador.

In March 1987, Army Sgt. Gregory Fronius was killed during the rebel assaults against the Army’s 4th Bridgade at El Paraiso.

U.S. advisers also came under attack during rebel assaults against Salvadoran military bases at Usulután in February 1988 and again at El Paraiso in September.

A U.S. official said that any time U.S. military personnel engage in combat it must be reported to Congress. After the latest attack at El Paraiso, the Defense Department waited two weeks before announcing that U.S. military personnel had come under fire.

U.S. military advisors are widely believed to have found themselves in combat situations more frequently than has been reported.

One Western diplomat said, “I would presume that every time a military base is attacked, a U.S. adviser come under attack.”

In recent weeks, rebel attacks have become more frequent. Yesterday, the rebels attacked two other military installations at the same time they assaulted the Zacatecoluca based and on the base of the 1st Brigade in San Salvador, they said.

A Blood-spattered Stalemate

Eastern Chalatenango, El Salvador — A helicopter gunship riddled the landscape with heavy machine-gun fire as a battalion of 200 elite army soldiers trailed on the ground behind.

Two miles away, a patrol of six guerrillas kept track on the oncoming battalion, communicating with fellow rebels by radio. They knew the exact location of the troops, but rather than engage the superior force they prudently pulled back. Once the soldiers passed, the rebels reassumed positions they had held before.

The army’s counterinsurgency deployment and the guerrillas’ game of cat and mouse was typical of the 9-year-old conflict between the U.S.-backed government of this Central American nation and the leftist rebels of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN).

It is one reason the Salvadoran army has been unable to defeat the rebels. The army is larger and better equipped, but the rebels are quick and elusive and rely on the support of the populace.

A top U.S. military analyst described the civil war as a “strategic stalemate.” The rebels are not strong enough to take power. But the army is not effective enough to “liquidate the guerrillas,” he said.

The U.S. Embassy rarely comments on military tactics. But privately U.S. officials say that the U.S.-backed counterinsurgency is not going well.

The stakes for U.S. policy are high. Since civil war broke out in 1980, El Salvador has received more than $3.3 billion in U.S. aid. Once barely known to policy-makers, this small Central American republic of five million has become the fifth largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid.

No regular U.S. ground troops have been deployed in El Salvador. But four U.S. Army lieutenant colonels who studied the level of training, material assistance and technical support provided by the United States described U.S. participation in the Salvadoran conflict as “the most significant sustained military enterprise since Vietnam.”

And the outcome remains uncertain. Former U.S. Ambassador Edwin Corr has estimated it would take at least until 1994 to beat down the guerrillas. Other U.S. officials say it may take longer. And in an interview, a senior State Department analyst said that the government of El Salvador remains vulnerable to the guerrilla threat.
Some U.S. military advisers blame the Salvadoran government for the prolonged stalemate.

The U.S.-backed Salvadoran army is reluctant to break down into the kind of small units that advisers say are essential to counter the insurgency. And government troops, they say, have become too dependent on their U.S.-supplied firepower, which they use more to, defend themselves than to attack. “It’s like chasing a mosquito with a hammer,” one military analyst said.

Most army casualties result from guerrilla ambushes or mines, said military sources, not from coordinated guerrilla offensives.

The guerrillas — including about 6,000 full-time combatants — are outnumbered more than 9 to 1 by the army. But they are attracting recruits. And a U.S. official who monitors the war says the rebels are “more committed and more effective” now than before.

The key to the rebels’ success is the civilian population in areas they control, said a top U.S. military analyst who has advised other Central American countries in counterinsurgency operations.

Army troops who have patrolled in Chalatenango province say that the population collaborates with the rebels.
“The majority of the people there want the guerrillas, not the armed forces,” said foot soldier Julio Ernesto Cabrera.

A guerrilla commander said the rebels have indeed organized a “clandestine power (base) within the population.”

In one village recently, the town council sponsored a dance, Government planes flew overhead as rebels, their M-16 rifles slung over their shoulders, danced La Bamba with girlfriends.

Although the terrain is rugged and mostly accessible only by foot, eastern Chalatenango is heavily populated. Many residents are war refugees who have been repatriated from neighboring Honduras in the last year.

Col. Lopez Roque, commander of the army’s 4th Brigade in Chalatenango, said the rebels have coordinated the repatriations.

The elite Atlacatl battalion passed through a number of refugee communities during its weeklong trek earlier this month and got a reminder of the rebels’ presence. On one trail, between the villages of San Jose Las Flores and Guarjila, guerrillas had disseminated hundreds of fliers just before the army arrived.

Crude sketches were scrawled on the handouts. One depicted a rebel ambush. Another showed a Nov. 1 rebel attack on a National Guard post in the capital city, San Salvador. The drawings included dead soldiers. “This is what awaits you!” read the caption below the sketch.

Such tactics can be particularly frightening to army troops. The rebels could as easily have littered the mountain trail with land mines as with propaganda, the soldiers say.

Large battalions such as the Atlacatl are able to move through rebel-held terrain. But rarely do they encounter guerrillas. And most military engagements that do occur are carried out on the rebels’ terms.

“We (engage the army) when we want to,” said a 25-year-old rebel.”

The rebels still are far from taking power. But in interviews, both the guerrillas and their civilian supporters said they were convinced that time was on their side.

“The struggle is long,” said one guerrilla. “But (we’re) not tired. We’ll fight until we win.”

Said a rebel named Israel: “This isn’t like Nicaragua, where (the guerrillas) won quickly. It’s more like Vietnam – a prolonged war.”

A former peasant, Israel has been with the guerrillas since 1979. The most difficult time, he said, was the early 1980s. Army massacres in eastern Chalatenango were common. Civilians regularly fled from oncoming government troops, rather than stay behind as they do now. The guerrillas, he said, lacked weapons as well as communications equipment.

“I started with a pistol and a homemade rifle,” said another rebel, Pickiri, who takes his nom de guerre from a revolutionary Salvadoran leader. He now is equipped with a U.S.-made M-1 6 automatic rifle.

The guerrillas also use battery-powered two, way radios in the field. The rebels say they captured the equipment from the Salvadoran army. But reliable U.S. intelligence sources say Nicaragua is the more likely source.

Since 1983, however, the flow of arms from Managua has dried up. The rebels’ M-16s in eastern Chalatenango appeared old. Although they functioned, almost half the weapons’ hard plastic stocks had broken off – replaced by homemade wooden versions.

In the last year, the rebels increasingly have manufactured their own mortars and land mines. They make them with readily available materials such as masking tape, tin cans, gunpowder and flashlight batteries. The rebels employed such “popular arms” in the surprise attack on the National Guard post in San Salvador last month, a rebel said.

The guerrillas also have tried to build troop strength and are attracting volunteers. The rebels once relied partly on forced recruitment. But even informed U.S. officials now admit that this practice has been abandoned.

The Salvadoran army, by contrast, rarely accepts volunteers. Military officials fear that those volunteering may be guerrillas trying to infiltrate the army.

Combatants on both sides are strikingly young. The army recruits males as young as 16. And a “class” of about 10 rebel volunteers ranged in age from 14 to 21 — some of them female.

A shy teen-age girl said she was being trained to be a radio operator at a secret mountain location. When asked why she joined the guerrillas, she replied, “You have to fight for the people.”