Monday, August 30, 2010

The Good Guys ?

In 1994, more than 800,000 people, mostly members of the ethnic Tutsi group in Rwanda, were slaughtered by the Hutu. Then when a Tutsi-led government seized power in Rwanda, Hutu militias fled along with Hutu civilians across the border to Congo. Rwanda invaded to pursue them, aided by a Congolese rebel force. Although Rwanda and Congolese forces claimed that they attacked Hutu militias who were sheltered among civilians, the United Nations report documents deliberate reprisal attacks on civilians. The report asserts that there was no effort to make a distinction between militia and civilians, noting a “tendency to put all Hutu people together and ‘tar them with the same brush.’ ”

The report says that the apparently systematic nature of the massacres “suggests that the numerous deaths cannot be attributed to the hazards of war or seen as equating to collateral damage.” It continues, “The majority of the victims were children, women, elderly people and the sick, who were often undernourished and posed no threat to the attacking forces.” The report contains a chilling, detailed accounting of the breakup of Hutu refugee camps at the start of the war in October 1996, followed by the pursuit of hundreds of thousands of Hutu refugees across the country’s vast hinterland by teams of Rwandan soldiers and the Alliance des Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Congo. Those forces were led by Laurent Kabila, who took over as president the next year, and who was the father of Congo’s current president, Joseph Kabila. The report presents repeated examples of times when teams of Rwandan soldiers and their Congolese allies lured Hutu refugees with promises they would be repatriated to Rwanda, only to massacre them. Extermination teams laid ambush along strategic roadways and forest paths, making no distinction between men, women and children as they killed them.

Timothy Longman, the director of the African Studies Center at Boston University, said that people in eastern Congo had long charged they were victims, too. “The reason it didn’t get more attention is that it contradicted the narrative of the Rwandan Popular Front as the ‘good group’ that stopped the genocide in Rwanda,”

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