Trying To Cope in Rwanda

September 24, 1994

The Rwanda crisis will be with the world for years. The United Nations has abandoned for now its policy of urging Hutu who fled to Tanzania and Zaire to return to their homeland. There are too many reports of Tutsi, victors in a bloody civil war, taking revenge on Hutu who have come back to the southeastern part of the country. In the southwest, the U.N. says some Hutu are flocking to what was once a French-protected zone, there to take up arms against forces of the Tutsi-led Rwanda Patriotic Front that are determined to deny them bases.

In Rwanda, once a country of 8 million now depopulated by mass murder and exile, the RPF-sponsored government shows some signs of competence, but murders go on, particularly of influential Hutu. Meanwhile, the crops are not getting sown. The economy is not functioning. The famine of 1995 is being created.

With the American troops guarding airports in Rwanda, Zaire and Uganda scheduled to return by Oct. 7, the Clinton administration gives low priority to this remote human catastrophe where there is no American legacy or national interest. There is only the humanitarian imperative. The principal American effort to help Rwanda is going to be carried out by non-government organizations.

Foremost among them is Catholic Relief Services, headquartered in Baltimore. Kenneth F. Hackett, the CRS director, has recently returned from Rwanda, where agency executives have been reviewing their program. CRS has set up management structures on West Fayette Street and in East Africa to deal with Rwanda, and has helped form a single operation on the ground with European sister organizations.

With reconciliation between Tutsi and Hutu exceedingly remote, economic revival seems a forlorn hope. It is not enough to distribute grain and restart agriculture. Anyone trying to heal Rwanda will want to figure out how to get its people to trust the new government and to resume their lives.

That new government, created by the Tutsi rebel general Paul Kagame, should be held to a higher standard than the regime it ousted. Neighboring African states must play a constructive role. Not much can be expected from Washington, now preoccupied with Haiti. Fortunately, there are agencies with the human concern and professional know-how -- such as Catholic Relief Services -- willing to take up the burden.

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