Rwanda warns of Hutus preparing second genocide

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Rwanda's Tutsi-led government is warning of preparations for a new genocide by militias of the Hutu majority based in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo. In the latest alarmist statement, the defence minister of Rwanda, Emmanuel Hayarimana, said more than 40,000 rebels were marching from their Congolese bases at Kabalo, some 280 miles from the south-west Rwandan border, and from Kamina, 500 miles from the frontier.

The Rwandans are parading Hutu prisoners in support of their claims. In the face of increasing international scepticism, Rwanda's military government needs to justify the presence of 11,000 of its troops in the DRC.

Pierre Habimana is one of the prisoners. If this Hutu's captors are to be believed, their prisoner was part of the advance guard of the foiled second genocide, a repeat of the savage machete rampage that left up to 800,000 Tutsis dead in three months in 1994.

The prisoner clutched his crucifix as he spoke. "We had a revelation that the land was going to be ours," said the Interahamwe militia leader, captured last month by the Rwandan military. "It was a sign from the Lord, and so all means were acceptable to conquer the land." Because of the threat of people such as Habimana, still hiding in the Congolese jungle just a few kilometres away, Rwanda can justify its role in the three-year war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Forty-year-old Habimana, whose nom de guerre is Bemera, is in military custody and must negotiate his way out of death by firing squad. So he may, for the benefit of journalists brought by his captors to meet him at a hilltop barracks, be overstating the size of the Hutu offensive.

But Colonel Bemera ("My name signified 'Those who believe'") may be telling the truth. "I was the chief of staff of Alir 1, which was born through God's work in the refugee camps in Congo. Alir means Armée de Liberation du Rwanda. A Congolese woman at Masisi camp told us her vision – if we continued to kill the pigs belonging to the locals, we would perish. But God was ready to give us Rwanda and it was our mission to return."

Thousands of Rwandans fled to neighbouring Congo during and after the 1994 genocide. They were Tutsis, the minority élite caste that had been the target of the frenzied murder, as well as their Hutu friends. Others who fled included the Interahamwe (the killers). Many have now returned to Rwanda and the stragglers are increasingly suspected of having something to hide or planning a final solution.

The Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA), which has governed the small country since crushing the genocidaires in July 1994, claims that Alir is acting with the support of Joseph Kabila and his allies from Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia and Burundi. The accusation is serious: to gain military advantage over Rwandan troops occupying the DRC, Mr Kabila is allegedly prepared to destabilise Rwanda by raising the spectre of a new genocide.

"The Interahamwe are unrepentant," said the RPA deputy chief of staff, Brigadier-General James Kabarebe, at his Kigali headquarters. "They want to finish the job. If two or three of them are picked up in Europe from time to time, just imagine how many are hiding in Congo. They have received airdrops of arms from Kabila."

Elaborating with a surprising amount of detail, he added: "Alir 1 consists of at least 13,000 men but it has been neutralised now. Alir 2, which is preparing an offensive from the south, is made up of 40,000 men."

In his hilltop prison near the capital, Habimana, wearing a new, lime-green shirt and jeans, sat behind his interrogation table and outlined his view of events in 1994.

"In Alir, we do not use the word genocide. What happened in 1994 was, to us, a massacre. To have been a genocide, the killings would have had to be premeditated. There was incitement to hatred but there was not a pre-planned annihilation of the Tutsis. They were killed because of their possessions and because they were at war with the government.

"I was innocent of genocide. I was like a technician. I was defending the government of the day. It is not true that we wanted to bring back the genocide. We Hutus just want our power back," he said.

It is clear from his vocabulary that Habimana has spent the last seven years in the jungle. Rwandans living at home since the genocide do not use the H-word or the T-word. Such talk is detonator rhetoric and everyone knows that only the R-word, reconciliation, will keep international aid flowing. So the rebels captured at the same time as Habimana went to a "re-education camp".

Yet even as the Rwandan military government is engaged in a grandiose exercise to prove to the world it can turn the other cheek, every fibre in its being is imbued with the terrible fear of the Interahamwe and the plethora of militias and mercenaries it can enlist.

That is why Rwanda will never fully pull out of the DRC – and why there cannot be stability in this key region of Africa – until there is the international will for thousands of United Nations peace-keepers and observers to launch a disarmament programme in the Congo that will be the biggest the world has ever seen.