Rwanda, Where All Sides Lose

April 27, 1994

Squeezed between remotest Tanzania and Zaire and touching Uganda, the tragic little countries of Rwanda and Burundi defy any agency that might be tempted to intervene against slaughter.

Following the April 6 plane crash, allegedly by rocket fire, killing the Hutu presidents of the two countries, the Hutu army and presidential guard of Rwanda have been on a murder binge. The victims have been majority Hutu civilians and minority Tutsi civilians. The figure of 100,000 deaths is an informed guess.

In a political sense, this rage under the aegis of an interim government is lunatic. It triggered the release of the small Tutsi insurgent army, the Rwanda Patriotic Front, from its cease-fire. The RPF is overrunning much of the country. Government forces that launched the slaughter have proved unable to stop it, or uninterested.

Aid workers and U.N. officials and Amnesty International agree that what's going on is not "ethnic war" but a slaughter launched by the government. Battle between government and rebel forces is by comparison minor. Part of the danger is that the slaughter in Rwanda, which has been under majority Hutu rule since independence, could slop over to Burundi, where minority Tutsi rule gave way to a system of shared power only recently.

A Tutsi military coup against Hutu civil leadership failed last week in Burundi. Most Tutsi soldiers sat it out, fearing Hutu reprisals. But Burundi is still tense and still receiving refugees.

The Tutsi and Hutu are physically different peoples who speak a common language and have often inter-married. They have been linked for centuries, with the minority Tutsi as overlords and majority Hutu as underclass. This relationship cannot be sustained in modern times. Shared power is the only formula making sense. Shared power was the victim of the plane crash and slaughters in Rwanda, and the intended victim of the coup attempt in Burundi.

Cease-fires have been announced. All frustrated onlookers must pray they are kept. It is easy to sympathize with RPF contempt for the post-purge Rwanda government. But the RPF cannot provide civil order without Hutu participation.

African statesmen have tried nobly to broker accommodation. The probability is that their apparent success rather than failure provoked the assassinations and carnage. Eventually, the accommodation route will have to be taken again. There is no alternative but endless slaughter.

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