Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Recalling Rwanda's Forgotten War Rwandans Have Fought a Civil War for More Than Two Years, but Agreement between Government and Rebels, along with Increased World Attention, May Be the Light at the End of the Tunnel

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Recalling Rwanda's Forgotten War Rwandans Have Fought a Civil War for More Than Two Years, but Agreement between Government and Rebels, along with Increased World Attention, May Be the Light at the End of the Tunnel

Article excerpt

CONTINUED fighting is frustrating talks to end the civil war in the tiny central African nation of Rwanda, where, in contrast to a global trend of secessionist struggles, rebels say they are battling to overcome the nation's ethnic differences.

After two and a half years of a war that has rarely caught the world's attention, increased diplomatic pressure could throw an international spotlight on one of the continent's least-known conflicts. France is urging United Nations involvement in Rwanda. And both sides of the conflict are pressuring the Organization of African Unity (OAU) to increase its role in peace talks.

Negotiations aimed at ending the war started just weeks after the conflict began in late 1990, when exiled members of the Tutsi minority invaded from Uganda. The rebels demand an end to ethnic strife, the right of refugees to return to Rwanda, and an end to what they call the dictatorial powers of the Hutu-dominated government of President Juvenal Habyarimana.

Although cease-fire agreements have come and gone, peace talks have made significant progress on most topics, including provisions for power sharing by all groups through a period of transitional government leading to democratic elections. Disagreements still exist on how long the transitional government should last and how to integrate the rebel and government armies.

The OAU has maintained a group of 50 neutral military observers to monitor compliance with cease-fire terms since the middle of last year. France, which along with Belgium sent troops after fighting began in October 1990, maintains about 600 troops in the capital, Kigali. The Belgian troops were withdrawn in November 1990.

Rebels contend that the presence of French troops in Kigali frees Rwandan troops for duty on the front line and makes the government intransigent at the peace talks.

Rwanda is about the size of West Virginia. With around 7.5 million people, it is one of the most densely populated countries in Africa.

The rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) controls a swath of land that runs across the north of the country. There the fertile terraced hills lie idle and the tea plantations stand unattended. With the eerie atmosphere of a ghost town, the rebel area is a symbol of the decline of the agricultural sector that once served as the major source of foreign currency earnings for Rwanda.

The war's front line is a string of trenches running along the tops of wooded hills. From the RPF positions rebels can see government trenches on the next hilltop. Not far from the front line, Paul Kagame, the gaunt military leader of the RPF, surveys a luxuriant valley through a sudden tropical downpour. He says he is fighting for democratic reforms.

"What we need to do in Rwanda at the moment is cripple the means the government has to maintain a dictatorship in the country, and that is the military power it has at its disposal," he says. …

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