Grappling with Rwanda's Calamity

May 19, 1994

The best chance to end the annihilation of the Tutsi people and general slaughter in Rwanda would be speedy victory by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). This force of mostly Tutsi minority men, many raised in exile and only recently returned, is relatively more disciplined than those of what passes for government. Fewer atrocities are attributed to it. Where combat has occurred, it has defeated government troops. It is closing inexorably in on Kigali, the capital.

The government of Hutu extremist politicians and soldiers has fled Kigali for the provincial town of Gitarama, 20 miles to the southwest. It is served by the presidential guard, the army, the militias and mobs called "interahamwe," that have slaughtered all Tutsi encountered and any Hutu suspected of disloyalty. These forces are very good at murdering defenseless people, including the very old and the very young, but not so good at fighting enemy soldiers.

Most of the refugees over the border in Tanzania are Hutu who, understanding the genocidal government slaughter of Tutsi, fled border areas as the RPF advanced, expecting reprisal. With restoration of order in Rwanda, most would return home. They fled in good health, taking belongings. Disease is setting in. They are relatively easier for international aid organizations to help in hastily assembled tent cities than the people surviving -- Tutsi or Hutu, maimed, orphaned, diseased, without food or sanitation -- in Kigali and the interior.

Courageous work by international agency aid workers officers has saved lives but failed so far to win agreement by the government to large-scale, safe, humanitarian efforts in the interior. Sun correspondent Mark Matthews has made vividly clear the hell that Kigali has become.

The U.N. Security Council, overcoming U.S. reservations, has arranged for a 5,500-man African force, with U.S. logistic support, to supplement the current 400-man U.N. operation inside the country, with 500 Ghanaians to go first, equipped with U.S. armored vehicles.

When they might arrive and what functions they might carry out is unclear. There is not much the international community can do inside a country without the cooperation of its government or combatants. So far, both government and RPF have shown no interest in peace-making with the other, or in establishing a safe framework for humanitarian efforts.

An RPF government might not remain benign, representing only a minority. But the present so-called government is one of the most bestial ever inflicted on any country. Its quick collapse would save lives. The worst thing that could happen would be prolonged military stalemate, paralyzing humanitarian efforts.

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