- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 13, 2000

Rwanda's newly elected president, Paul Kagame, is determined to keep his troops in neighboring Congo until his country's security is assured, by force of arms if necessary.

"We have signed the Lusaka [peace] accords that provide for a cease-fire and dialogue, but they have not stopped shooting," he said in an hourlong interview yesterday with The Washington Times.

Mr. Kagame was referring to the peace deal signed in the Zambian capital of Lusaka last year in an unsuccessful attempt to end Congo's civil war.

"We will stay until our security needs are resolved," he declared.

As a general, defense minister, and now civilian head of state, Mr. Kagame is considered by many the principal architect of a political transformation that has washed over Central Africa in the past decade.

He was at the center of a Rwandan civil war that in 1994 reimposed rule by the minority Tutsis over the small African Great Lakes nation after 35 years of Hutu domination. Armed elements of the defeated government responded with a genocide whose grisly body count is estimated at anywhere from 500,000 to 1 million Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

Then, with a million Hutu refugees fleeing to next-door Congo in the aftermath of the civil war, Mr. Kagame initiated an invasion to break up the camps, drive 800,000 of the refugees back into Rwanda, and scatter the armed Tutsi factions among them.

"Rwanda is the only country that has single-handedly solved its own refugee problem," he said yesterday.

The invasion of Congo was instrumental in toppling the pro-Hutu government of Mobutu Sese Seko and bringing to power President Laurent Kabila.

Finally, when Mr. Kabila and his Rwandan allies had a falling out, Rwanda, citing security concerns, invaded once more in support of a rebellion aimed at bringing down Mr. Kabila as well.

Mr. Kagame defended the campaign yesterday.

"People say we violated Congo's sovereignty, but their allowing armed enemies of ours on their soil could be considered a violation of our sovereignty," Mr. Kagame said.

Rwanda's security problems, like those in neighboring Burundi, stem from basic demographics. Ruling Tutsis in both countries make up just 15 percent of the population. Almost all the rest are Hutus.

Tutsis in Congo and other Central African nations also make up a small minority of the respective populations.

In the precolonial period, an easy coexistence developed between the two ethnic groups in Rwanda, with the minority Tutsis, a pastoral people, ruling over the agricultural Hutus. The two groups spoke the same Kinyarwanda language and intermarried.

But animosities developed on the eve of independence in 1959, when a bloody Hutu uprising toppled the Tutsi monarchy. Mr. Kagame's parents fled into exile in neighboring Uganda. The Rwandan president was just 3 years old at the time.

He spent the better part of his adult life as a soldier fighting in the wars of Yoweri Museveni, now president of Uganda, against dictators such as Idi Amin and Milton Obote.

In 1990, with Mr. Museveni firmly in control of Uganda, Gen. Kagame led the Tutsi exiles, organized as the Rwandese Patriotic Front, back into Rwanda.

"We decided to return in order to free our country from dictatorship," Mr. Kagame said.

Mr. Kagame was elected president April 22 by a seven-party parliament, 86-to-5, following the resignation of a figurehead president, Pasteur Bizimungu.

Lately, there has been a falling out between Rwanda and Uganda, which produced armed clashes in Kisangani, a river port in northeast Congo.

"Those problems have been largely solved," Mr. Kagame said, but he was vague about what caused them in the first place.

The two countries support different Congolese rebel factions, have diverging interests in Congo, and face different outside pressures. For example, Uganda's Mr. Museveni has faced pressure from international lending agencies to cut back on military spending or face reduced funding.

Uganda is supporting a rebel faction in north-central Congo led by Jean-Pierre Bemba, a former Mobutu official, whose goal is believed to be the the rich mineral resources in that region.

In contrast, the Rwandan government sees its struggle in Congo as a matter of survival.

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