Terror in the Heart of Africa

April 10, 1994

Rwanda and Burundi are both plagued by endemic strife between the upper-class Tutsi minority and under-class Hutu majority. But whoever assassinated the Hutu presidents of Rwanda and Burundi, the chaos afterward was driven by Hutu hardliner attacks against Hutu moderates. Other targets were Tutsi, aid workers, priests and 2,115 lightly armed U.N. troops from 23 countries.

Two of Africa's smallest and most densely populated countries, Rwanda and Burundi were Belgian mandates after World War I until independence in 1962. Each is about 85 percent Hutu and 15 percent Tutsi. Rwanda has been Hutu-ruled since independence. Burundi was Tutsi-ruled until an unprecedented election last June.

Rwanda's hardline president, Juvenal Habyarimana, 57, came to power by coup in 1973. An invasion by Tutsi rebels in 1990 led to a peace plan. Mr. Habyarimana reluctantly accepted opposition politics and power-sharing in 1992. A Tutsi feminist and teacher, Agathe Uwilingiyimana, became prime minister the next year.

Burundi's Tutsi rulers suppressed a Hutu rebellion in 1972 with ,, executions of perhaps 150,000 educated Hutu males. Last year's election, under international pressure, produced a Hutu president, who was soon murdered by Tutsi troops. Ethnic war then took 50,000 to 100,000 lives. The Hutu majority of parliament elected Cyprian Ntaryamira to succeed as president last January.

The two presidents and officials had flown in Mr. Habyarimana's executive jet to Tanzania to meet other African presidents seeking to end Rwanda-Burundi turmoil. On return to Kigali airport, Wednesday, the plane burst in flames, reportedly hit by two rockets, killing all aboard.

Mr. Habyarimana's 700-man presidential guard then went berserk, kidnapping and killing moderates. They executed Ms. Uwilingiyimana and ten Belgian U.N. soldiers guarding her. Tutsi emerged from a compound to counter-attack. Rwanda's capital, Kigali, ceased to function. Burundi, meanwhile, was jittery but comparatively tranquil.

The U.N. and African efforts at peace-making were destroyed by unknown assassins. The dangerously exposed U.N. troops include 937 from Bangladesh, one from Fiji and none from the U.S. Foreign humanitarian workers are largely French and Belgian. The initial terrorism, in Rwanda, may have the result of restoring Tutsi dominance in Burundi and Hutu monopoly of power in Rwanda. The terrorists are winning.

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