- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 5, 2002

MUTOBO, Rwanda The road to civilian life for men like Gaston Niyonzima leads through a small camp of rudimentary buildings nestled in the mountains of western Rwanda.
Here, men who fled the country eight years ago for the Democratic Republic of Congo, then called Zaire, are getting their first peek at a peaceful Rwanda. Their home country is still sorting out the legacy of the 1994 genocide in which the majority Hutus killed more than 800,000 of the minority Tutsis and Hutu sympathizers.
Mr. Niyonzima, a lanky man who sported a purple Minnesota Vikings sweatshirt and worn flip-flops, said he hopes to join today's Rwandan army and resume life as a second lieutenant in the country of his birth.
"If the government wants to take me, I'd prefer to return to the army," said Mr. Niyonzima, 36.
Mr. Niyonzima and hundreds of others have returned from the war in Congo after eight years in the bush. The July 30 agreement between Congo and Rwanda in Pretoria, South Africa, marked the official end of hostilities.
Rwanda, which invaded eastern Congo in the 1990s to pursue Hutu rebels and genocide ringleaders, pulled almost all of its troops out of the vast central African nation in September. In return, the Congolese government in Kinshasa promised to end support for the Hutus and to help bring major criminals to justice.
But the task remains enormous. Though 722 men have been demobilized at Mutobo, there are still between 15,000 and 50,000 Hutu rebels at large, leading to considerable pessimism among foreign officials that the anarchic violence in Congo will end anytime soon.
"Where are all the hard-liners who are still in Congo?" asked one high-ranking U.N. official who didn't want to be named. "It's hard to believe that many of these people will come out voluntarily."
In 1994, there were millions of people like Mr. Niyonzima.
They were Hutus, a chaotic mass of humanity that left Rwanda when a Tutsi-led rebel army defeated the bloodthirsty regime. Many of the Hutus planned the genocide. Others, like Mr. Niyonzima, were soldiers in the defeated government army. Still other bystanders were convinced that the rebels, once in power, would retaliate in kind.
While the new Tutsi leadership did not attempt genocide, it did invade Congo to pursue Hutus who were reorganizing and suffusing their youth with anti-Tutsi propaganda. Congolese strongman Laurent Kabila called on the displaced Rwandan Hutus and related peoples of eastern Congo to repel the invaders.
By 2000, Mr. Niyonzima wound up garrisoned at Kamina, a sprawling military base once used by the Belgian army to assert control over the mineral riches of southeastern Congo. There, Hutu leaders, backed by Congolese government soldiers, told them to forget about returning to Rwanda.
"They told us we'd first be beaten 600 times, and that there was killing without end," said Jacques Uwimpuhwe, 28, another soldier at Kamina.
Then came the Pretoria agreement, and U.N. peacekeepers got access to the Kamina camp. When information trickled into the camp that Rwanda was at peace, Mr. Niyonzima and 135 others asked the United Nations for a lift home. After a bloody mutiny in which hard-core Hutu rebels escaped into the countryside, Mr. Niyonzima arrived in Rwanda on a U.N. transport plane.
Mutobo, a Rwandan government camp supported by the World Bank and other foreign donors, is a sort of halfway house for combatants who are ready to become civilians.
There, the men spend 45 days in an environment that is open they can leave if they want but somewhat regimented, with civics lessons on human rights, AIDS, the role of women in society and democracy. They also get three meals a day and sleep together in large dirt-floor shacks framed with stripped branches and covered with corrugated aluminum.
When they get out, they will receive a blanket, household items such as pots and pans, and 39,000 Rwandan francs about $78. They also will have to return to their home villages to pick up the national identification cards that every Rwandan must carry at all times.
Mr. Niyonzima said he will meet with friends in Kigali whom he knows from the former government army and now serve in Rwanda's military.
"I'm really looking forward to that," he said. "It's like being back with your brothers."
This attitude worries the Rwandan government and foreign donors who are supporting the demobilization project. The No. 1 problem in trying to dismantle armies in Africa, whether in South Africa, Angola or Mozambique, has been that they turn to crime once the war is over. They know weapons and have the habit of callousness toward civilians.
Because most Hutu rebels returned to Rwanda only when they were assured of their safety, the Rwandan government plays up this theme at Mutobo in an effort to steer them toward the straight and narrow.
"We try to convince them that security in Rwanda depends on their own behavior as citizens," said Frank Musonera, director of the Mutobo camp.
A more uniquely Rwandan challenge for the returning soldiers may be the country's broad-based project for dealing with lesser offenders of the genocide. "Gacaca," as Rwanda's village-level courts are known, allow ordinary citizens to accuse perpetrators and see them tried before their peers.
None of the men interviewed at Mutobo admitted taking part in the genocide, but any of them could face charges when they return home for their identification documents, Mr. Musonera said. For now, though, the Rwandan government simply wants to get the returning Hutus out of uniform and into the mainstream.
"Here, we are not interested in who committed genocide," Mr. Musonera said. "That is the role of gacaca."

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