- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 28, 2003

KIGALI, Rwanda — Voters this week overwhelmingly backed a constitution aiming to curb the ethnic extremism that spawned the country’s 1994 genocide, in a move that paves the way for elections later this year, officials said Tuesday.

President Paul Kagame announced that a presidential election would be held in August, followed by legislative elections in September, the first since the bloodletting nine years ago that claimed the lives of up to 1 million people.

The constitution won 93 percent support in Monday’s referendum, Electoral Commission Chairman Chrysologue Karangwa said. He said the turnout amounted to 87 percent of registered voters, though the result still must be ratified by the Supreme Court.

Besides laying the groundwork for the first elections in this poor Central African country since 1988 and ending a period of transition since 1994, the new constitution also eases restrictions on political activity.

Up to 1 million people were killed during the 100 days of bloodshed in 1994 in a government-orchestrated campaign to rid the country of its Tutsi minority population. Many Hutus also were killed in reprisals or because they refused to go along with the genocide.

Almost a decade later, the issue of ethnicity continues to loom large in Rwanda, especially in connection with politics.

Also Tuesday, Mr. Kagame said he would be less opposed to the deployment of French troops in neighboring Congo if they were part of a wider United Nations force.

“If France could come with other forces from other countries, we would look at that as a U.N. [deployment], and therefore the damage that I would anticipate would be limited, more limited than if it was just France going to deal with the problem of Ituri,” Mr. Kagame said at a news conference.

France has provisionally accepted a U.N. Security Council appeal to contribute troops to an emergency mission in Congo’s volatile Ituri region, but said it would do so only if other countries did likewise and if Rwanda and Uganda gave their blessing.

“I’m in support of the U.N. being more active to resolve the problems in Ituri,” Mr. Kagame said at the news conference Tuesday.

Rwanda backs the main rebel group in Congo, the Congolese Rally for Democracy, which controls much of the east and center of the country and is linked to the Hema ethnic faction now in control of Bunia, Ituri’s capital.

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