- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 3, 2004

Better security

Rwanda’s security has shown dramatic improvement since the recent agreement by all parties to end the internal conflict that had threatened to drive a dagger of instability into the heart of Africa.

“Our security situation has vastly improved with the settlement of the Congo conflict,” Charles Murigande, the foreign minister of the nation of 7 million that is perched on Congo’s eastern border, told our correspondent Gus Constantine this week.

The enhanced security, in turn, promises to clear the way to work out a more substantial Tutsi-Hutu reconciliation. In the past, the Rwandan government has been far more focused on prosecuting the perpetrators of the 10-year-old genocide that took some 800,000 lives than in striving for ethnic reconciliation.

At a luncheon with reporters and editors at The Washington Times, Mr. Murigande emphasized that the Tutsi-led government’s two interventions in Congo were based solely on the threat it perceived from armed remnants of the Hutu government overthrown in 1994.

“We did not go in to benefit from Congo’s resources, as some have claimed,” he said. “We went in to assure our survival.”

Two Hutu groups — an armed militia of former President Juvenal Habyarimana called the Interahamwe and elements of the former Rwandan Armed Forces, referred to as ex-FAR — fled to eastern Congo to continue the struggle against the Tutsi-led Rwandan government.

Congolese President Joseph Kabila has moved against these forces and has taken Congolese rebels friendly to Rwanda into his government.

Mr. Murigande was in Washington to attend this week’s National Prayer Breakfast and to brief U.S. officials on the situation in his region of Africa.

Broader security

U.S. and Canadian officials are concentrating on securing Canada’s border with Alaska and monitoring thousands of waterways in the Great Lakes area.

Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan reviewed the success of border security efforts after a meeting last week with Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge.

Ms. McLellan, who also serves a public safety minister, told reporters that the level of cooperation between the two countries is “outstanding.”

“We will continue to build on the existing level of cooperation, and, of course, part of what we want to do as we move forward is see, in fact, where we need to go next,” she said.

Mr. Ridge said Alaska has “some unique needs” that will be addressed, as he reorganizes the Homeland Security Department “a little bit.”

“One of the next steps we will take as we build on the existing [border] agreement is to take a look at the maritime security which obviously affects Alaska, perhaps more than another area,” he said. “We have literally thousands of waterways that we need to contend with on the Great Lakes.”

The United States and Canada signed the “Smart Border” agreement in December 2001 to help secure the world’s longest border and provide for convenient crossings for frequent travelers who have undergone extensive background checks.

“Our primary objective was to work toward ensuring that the terrible events of September 11 would never be repeated,” Ms. McLellan said.

Mr. Ridge added, “One of the most important challenges we face is protecting the more than 5,000 miles of border we share, keeping it open for business and closed to terrorists.”

The United States and Canada have the world’s largest bilateral trade, with more than $1.3 billion in business conducted daily across the border.

“We will not falter or leave our work unfinished, for the war on terror means rising to a new standard of protection every day, drawing strength from past accomplishments but never growing complacent about the future,” Mr. Ridge said.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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