Africa, Headlines

AFRICA-POLITICS: Rwanda’s Revenge

Tansa Musa

YAOUNDE, Jul 10 1996 (IPS) - African leaders shrugged off U.S. efforts at their just ended summit here to persuade them not to support U.N. Secretary-General Boutros-Boutros Ghali’s bid for a second term, but there was one dissenting voice.

While Organisation of African Unity (OAU) Secretary-General Salim Ahmed Salim refused to tell journalists which country had opposed the Egyptian diplomat’s re-election bid, a participant in the summit told IPS that the thumbs down had come from Rwanda.

He said Rwandan President Pasteur Bizimungu had called on fellow heads of state attending the 32nd OAU summit, which ended here Wednesday, to oppose Boutros-Ghali because he had betrayed the African continent when, in 1994, he advised the U.N. Security Council to withdraw U.N. troops from Rwanda.

The Rwandan government holds the United Nations responsible for the 1994 genocide in the Central African nation which, it has often said, could have been averted had the world body kept its peacekeepers there.

The United States had sent George Moose, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, to lobby against Boutros Ghali’s reelection bid, but failed to get the OAU to turn its back on him.

“We are quite aware of U.S. hostility to Dr. Boutros-Boutros Ghali, but he is our candidate,” Salim told journalists, adding: “But we are not unaware of how the U.N. system operates and we hope that between now and the days ahead, there might be a new thinking. So we continue to back him.”

While Rwanda’s president may have failed to persuade other African leaders to oppose Boutros Ghali’s candidature, he did obtain a diplomatic victory: the list of resolutions passed at the conference was to have included one on his country but intense lobbying by the Rwandans prevented this.

Asked why the summit had placed much emphasis on neighbouring Burundi but said next to nothing on Rwanda, Salim told journalists the situations in the two countries were very different.

Though peace and reconciliation had not yet been achieved in Rwanda following the genocide — in which up to a million people, mainly minority Tutsis, were killed by extremists from the Hutu majority — the situation there was complex, making it difficult for any external body to intervene, Salim said.

“Our primary objective is first to make the conditions in that country favourable and conducive for further talks by doing everything to ensure the return of refugees and that justice be done to the perpetrators of the 1994 genocide in that country,” the OAU Secretary-General added.

He also admitted that Rwanda’s government could not accept to negotiate with people it considers criminals, a reference to members of the former Rwandan government — whose overthrow in July 1994 ended the massacres — and its armed forces.

Burundi’s leaders had less success than their Rwandan counterparts. Under pressure from other African nations, they agreed to a plan to deploy peacekeepers in their country to prevent further bloodshed there.

The summit endorsed the deployment proposal, which had been worked out by leaders of the Great Lakes Region (East and Central Africa) at a Jun. 25 in Arusha, Tanzania. Burundi’s leaders had attended that meeting and, according to former Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere, the international mediator on Burundi, they had originally agreed to it.

They later appeared to come back on their decision, due largely to pressure from the Burundi army and politicians from the minority Tutsi group.

However, the size of the force, which would comprise mainly troops from Uganda, Ethiopia and Tanzania, and a timetable for its deployment still have to be worked out.

Burundi has been in a state of turmoil since its first elected president, Melchior Ndadaye, was assassinated in an aborted army coup in October 1993. Some 150,000 people have died in the past 32 months at the hands of Hutu rebels, Tutsi militiamen and the country’s Tutsi-led army.

The summit also urged the factions in Liberia — where heavy fighting from April to June in the capital, Monrovia, has been followed by clashes between rival armed groups in the countryside — to abide by a peace pact they signed in August last year.

Other trouble spots that came in for attention at the meeting included Somalia.

There were also press reports, refuted by Salim, that South Africa had notified the OAU Secretariat that it aimed to recognise the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic of Western Sahara, annexed by Morocco after Spain pulled out of the territory in 1976.

Salim admitted that there had been impediments to the implementation of a U.N. plan to resolve the conflict over the former Spanish colony, but said the OAU firmly supported the plan which, he stressed, still offered the best chance for a peaceful resolution of the dispute.

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