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27 November 1996

Barry Crawford from Africa Direct explains why he wants to see the West leave Rwanda alone

The news of large numbers of Rwandan Hutu refugees returning to Rwanda has been greeted with much enthusiasm in the Western media. At last the refugee 'problem' is being resolved. All reporters speculated on the fate likely to befall the Interahamwe, since the 'iron grip' they allegedly held over the refugees had been broken, and on the fate of Mobutu, whose army had been made to look ridiculous, and who has been accused of being a shadowy force behind the Interahamwe.

If we had not become used to the manner in which self-serving Western foreign policy interests have been given a sheen of morality by non-governmental organisations, we could have been incredulous about this version of events. After all, have most NGOs not told us about the 'inalienable human rights' of refugees? The most basic of these 'rights' is to be recognised as a refugee and not coerced into returning home. So how is it that certain militia forces in Africa receive polite recognition in the media, and matter-of-fact commentaries on their shelling and invasion of refugee camps? Since when has it become permissible to attack refugee camps? Remember the international outcry over the attacks upon Palestinian refugees in Sabra and Chatilla, Lebanon? So why no outcry over the invasion of refugee camps in Zaire? Answer: because Western NGOs and Western foreign policy makers have succeeded in creating a consensus that refugees are to be treated differently if they are Hutus. The Banyamulenge militias are simply continuing where the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) had left off, having deployed 'aggressive tactics', aimed at achieving 'voluntary' repatriation. This was how Mike McDonagh, Director of Concern International, expressed his satisfaction with violent measures against Hutu refugees: "So long as there are no indications of widespread hunger and disease, the rebels should be left to get on with clearing out the camps in their own way. They would be doing both us and the refugees a favour." (Quoted by the Times Africa correspondent Sam Kelly, 21.11.96)

Since the Zairean Tutsi militias have done the Western powers this favour, the Western powers have been saved the problem of bloodying their own hands, or of putting any of their soldier's lives at risk. Of course any serious discussion about the arming and backup of the Banyamulenge is not entered into, while a new round of international inquiries into the arming of the Interahamwe gets the headlines. And what of the Interahamwe? How is it that this mighty evil force, which had maintained an 'iron grip' over hundreds of thousands of refugees through their extraordinary powers of brainwashing and intimidation, proved in the end to be such a push-over?

Could it not be that Hutu refugees are not that mindless a group of people, and had very rational and understandable reasons for resisting the 'aggressive tactics' used against them? They had fled in the wake of an invasion of their country by a force which was unknown to them. Many of their friends and relatives remaining in Rwanda had been arrested and held without charge in appalling conditions. They then experienced attacks in the camps by the same forces they had fled, alongside local Zairean forces. Is it so surprising that they have been resistant to repatriation? Is it surprising that their initial response to the sacking of the camps was to flee further into Zaire? Such a desperate move proved to be a short-lived solution, in the face of impossible conditions. The pursuit of refugees by air-surveillance, and the news that an international force was pending, required a re-evaluation of the options. The new circumstances dictated that the only viable option was to seek safety in numbers and return to Rwanda en masse, and hope that the 'vetting' procedures they would encounter at the frontier would not result in too many arrests.

Many people have commented on the dearth of young men among the returning refugees. Having been branded international enemy Number One, Hutu men know better than to expect recognition of their democratic rights and have stayed away.

The present talk is of an international force basing itself in Rwanda. This illegitimate government is to be further beefed up with Western support. Meanwhile rebel militias control much of Eastern Zaire with American, though clearly not French, approval. The Zairean government has promised to wrest control back to their army. And so the carnage continues, instigated at every turn by Western intervention, and cries from 'humanitarian' NGOs for more.

Africa Direct, and anybody who wants a peaceful solution to the crisis, demands an end to Western intervention, respect for the right of Africans to govern themselves as they see fit, and above all, an end to the demonisation of Hutus.

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