Little Rwanda menaces mighty Zaire Genocide aftermath: rTC Canada's man in Washington sent by U.N. to end catastrophe.

November 02, 1996

THREE GREAT DANGERS from the warfare in eastern Zaire compel the attention of the world. The first is humanitarian. More than 1 million Rwandan Hutu refugees are being driven from camps to face disease, starvation and execution. That would amount to revenge for the genocidal fury they vented on Tutsi neighbors in Rwanda, killing some half-million, in 1994.

The second danger is disintegration of Zaire, the former Belgian Congo, a vast country of 40 million people and untold wealth. Its U.S.-backed dictator of three decades, President Mobutu Sese Seku, is a sick old man in Switzerland. His country barely functions. Its army is undisciplined and unpaid. If the Tutsi minority, called Banyamulenge, and the Tutsi regimes of Rwanda and Burundi detach the eastern strip, they could destroy the illusion of Zaire. That would encourage other separatist movements.

The third danger, though the least, is a wider African war. The Tutsi army of Rwanda is fighting Zaire now. Zaireans blame President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda. He sheltered those forces, under Paul Kagame, which seized Rwanda in 1994. As Rwanda's strong man, General Kagame is dismembering Zaire to end the raids from Hutu camps there, but he is still seen as Uganda's client. Zaire has grounds for war, but probably not the ability to wage it.

The United Nations is doing the right thing too late. It drafted Canada's able ambassador in Washington, Raymond Chretien, to recommend a course of action. Mr. Chretien, who was Canada's ambassador to Zaire, Rwanda and Burundi from 1978 to 1981, will travel there Wednesday. He may recommend an all-African intervention force with Western support, but it is doubtful one could materialize in time.

The little Tutsi armies are the most capable in the region now. But a resurrection of traditional Tutsi oppression of the great Hutu majority of Rwanda and Burundi would be a mistake. General Kagame violated one of independent Africa's sacred rules by calling for revising the borders drawn by Europe's imperialists more than a century ago. African regimes fear letting that genie out of the bottle.

France intervened in Rwanda in 1994, to protect Hutu butchers. The desire of European, African and American governments not to get involved now is great. Ambassador Chretien will deserve the thanks of the world if he can chart an end to this human catastrophe.

Pub Date: 11/02/96

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