Rwanda Catastrophe

July 19, 1994

The victory of the Rwandan Patriotic Front army, led by Tutsi exiles, has stopped one human calamity: the genocide of minority Tutsi people in Rwanda by Hutu militia forces. Bodies are no longer piling up and polluting the rivers. But this same victory has also provoked a new catastrophe, the panic migration of a nation to a volcanic countryside in Zaire which lacks water, food and shelter to sustain more people.

Now the victims are from the Hutu majority, who fled knowing of the methodical slaughter and expecting reprisals in kind. No observer has reported mass atrocities by the RPF, only conventional looting and summary executions of individual leaders held responsible for atrocities. Reverse genocide is -- so far as is known -- a fantasy of the collapsed government's propaganda. But fear prompted the exodus, now reckoned at three million souls, two-fifths of the nation. Many thousands will die of dysentery, dehydration and starvation.

Were this a moral fable, some justice might be found: Perpetrators of genocide lost to the designated victims and were themselves dispossessed. But this is life. Millions of Hutus who did no harm to anyone are walking to despair and death. They might have remained in their homes and tested the good faith of the RPF pledge not to harm them, but did not dare.

President Clinton has authorized an additional $19 million to a previous $120 million spent on Rwanda's calamity for 80 more airlift missions. The U.N. World Food Program estimates it needs 62,000 tons of food monthly to cope with displaced refugees, compared to 14,000 tons going into Somalia at the height of that country's starvation crisis.

In fairness to Gen. Paul Kagame, the RPF military leader, he has done the right thing in ordering troops not to harm civilians and in naming two well-known Hutus to the top two positions in the new government. One is Pasteur Bizimungu, who had been RPF representative in Brussels, to be president. Faustin Twagiramungu, named transitional prime minister in an accord last August, is to take that job.

The French intervention did good in saving lives. It properly renounced its initial aim of saving the government that launched genocide in April. But it wound up defending a protection zone in the southwest, from which the un-reassured Hutus are fleeing, and find themselves protecting mass murderers who should not be protected. A clash between the French neo-colonialists and the victorious RPF is something both should avoid.

What is needed is for the RPF to make good on its pledge of reconciliation and fairness and, with the French, to encourage all refugees to return in safety and confidence to their homes in Rwanda.

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