Leading Article: Saving Rwanda's troubled twin

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The Independent Online
Burundi on the brink is a phrase that has been used many times in the past year. Some believe it a miracle that this Central African state, Rwanda's twin, has not yet toppled into the same cauldron of genocidal horrors.

Yet although there are many similarities, there are also essential differences between Rwanda and Burundi. They may have the same ethnic mix - about 85 per cent Hutu and about 10 per cent Tutsi - but while Rwanda was an oppressive system of aristocracy and serfdom, Burundi's history was less confrontational and more subtle.

In Rwanda the Hutus held power from independence, when the power of the Tutsis was broken and many of them were killed or driven into exile. When the Tutsi returned as a guerrilla army in 1992, Hutu extremists resorted to genocide. By contrast, in Burundi the Tutsis never lost power and - even after the coming of democracy in 1993, when a Hutu was elected president - the Tutsis retained control of the army. So, however much the two peoples of Burundi mistrust each other the means to commit genocide does not exist as it did in Rwanda.

And the psychology may be different. Burundi experienced an outburst of ethnic killing in 1993. These massacres gave people a taste of the awful consequences of zero-sum ethnic war. They also had the effect of separating the two ethnic groups; villages and hills became either Hutu or Tutsi. As a result, it is now more difficult for them to get at each other in the countryside.

In Rwanda the international community ignored the danger signs and turned its back at a crucial moment. Burundi, however, has benefited from the skill and patience of an outstanding UN representative, Ould Abdallah. He is backed by uncharacteristic support and interest from the Security Council and UN headquarters in New York. So far Burundi's politicians have continued to talk and negotiate.

But despite all Burundi's advantages over Rwanda, disaster could still happen. Throughout the whole region tension is higher and trust lower than at any previous time. Rwanda's war is not halfway through. The initiators of genocide are still free and more than 2 million people have been driven from their homes. Militias are organising, training and arming. Some agencies are now warning of the possibility of a renewed ethnic war engulfing both countries.

The International Red Cross, the UN's Department of Humanitarian Affairs and the UN High Commission for Refugees all report that they have contingency plans for the worst. But Western governments and the international agencies have much to do to prevent Burundi reaching that calamity.

The simple truth is that Burundi will not be safe until Rwanda is put together again. Yet long-term international support for the Rwandan refugees is waning. There is little enthusiasm for picking up the political issues which lie like entwined snakes around Rwanda's body politic.

There can be no peace in this region until the refugees and displaced can return in safety to their homes, until the instigators of genocide are named and a new political dispensation is agreed. While there is no progress on these fundamentals, Burundians will face mortal danger.