Increasing Attacks Threaten Rwanda's Fragile Peace

News and Press Release
Originally published
By CHRIS TOMLINSON Associated Press Writer
BUGERAMA, Rwanda (AP) _ The 48 prisoners were sleeping in the small, crowded village jail when grenades came crashing through the windows. Trapped inside, the men clawed at the mud walls in a futile attempt to escape. Only two survived.

The government first said the prisoners, who were being held on suspicion of participating in the 1994 slaughter of Tutsis, had died in a botched jail break by Hutu militants operating from nearby Zaire. But the jail's flimsy wooden doors were only kicked in after the Monday attack was over.

The U.N. human rights field operation in Rwanda is now trying to determine who threw the grenades and why.

Hutu attacks in Cyangugu province, where Bugerama is located, have increased in recent weeks, raising concerns about the fragile peace that has reigned in Rwanda since the former Tutsi rebels swept the Hutu-dominated government from power in July 1994 and put an end to an orgy of killing.

This southwestern corner of Rwanda, wedged in between Zaire and Burundi, is close to refugee camps holding thousands of Hutus, including members of the former Rwandan army and militia who are blamed for the deaths of more than half a million people, mostly Tutsis, in 1994.

Rwandan officials say Hutu militants trying to silence the prisoners were responsible for the grenade attack. But investigators have not ruled out the possibility that rogue soldiers from the new, Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Army may have staged the attack in retaliation for earlier Hutu raids.

''I think the attacks will get worse because their (the Hutus') network still exists here and in Zaire,'' said Theobald Ruthunza, governor of Cyangugu. ''The ants will keep coming out until you destroy the hill.''

In the early 1990s, members of President Juvenal Habyarimana's majority Hutu government began forming militias, known as interahamwe, that began systematically killing Tutsis and Hutus opposed to the government after Hbyarimana's plane was mysteriously shotdown over the capital Kigali. The genocide was the former Hutu government's final solution to a four-year civil war with Tutsi-led rebels.

Rwandan officials now say the interahamwe _ ''all in this together'' _ _ are back.

Groups of former soldiers and interahamwe, based in refugee camps in Zaire, have carried out raids, assassinations and laid land mines to destabilize western Rwanda.

Ruthunza said the assailants move south from Zaire into Burundi and then enter Rwanda. He said Burundian Hutus help the militants across the porous, mountainous border where they are assisted by friends and relatives living in Rwanda.

''The local villagers help them innocently, not knowing why they have come,'' said Ruthunza. ''The villagers would never turn their backs on a brother or a cousin they haven't seen in more than a year.''

But the Rwandan Hutu rebels often carry land mines, assault rifles and even small mortars. On May 18 rebels attacked a communal office in Cyangugu province with heavy weapons, setting the building ablaze and freeing more than 30 Hutu prisoners in a four-hour firefight, according to witnesses.

The attacks and sabotage have created tension between predominantly Tutsi authorities and Hutu citizens in western Rwanda.

The army has overreacted. On April 4 soldiers killed 34 people in what government officials described as an interahamwe meeting. But a human rights investigation revealed that soldiers opened fire on a normal village meeting, killing more than 30 people, including women, and children.

The Rwandan military prosecutor is investigating. Human rights reports indicate the number of people killed each month in Rwanda has doubled since January. Reports for March and April say more than 273 people were killed in 87 different incidents. Investigations revealed that 135 were killed by government forces and 69 by rebels. The killers of the remaining 69 have not been identified.

About 85 percent of Rwanda's population is Hutu, 14 percent is Tutsi and 1 percent is Twa. The ethnic composition in neighboring Burundi is similar.

The increase in attacks by infiltrators and reprisals by government forces appears to be related to heightened militancy among Hutu refugees in Zaire.

The Rwandan Ambassador to the United Nations appealed for international action to stop Hutu militants in the Zaire-based camps and blamed Zaire's failure to respond for the instability in the region.

On a recent visit to Zaire, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Africa George Moose asked President Mobutu sese Seko to put an immediate stop to Rwandan Hutu rebel activities in eastern Zaire.

Diplomats say privately the refugee camps in Zaire, which hold more than 1 million Rwandans, are fertile ground for a growing Hutu insurgency. The camps cost the international community more than a million dollars a day and are creating both financial and moral problems for donors and aid agencies.