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|August 31, 2010|
Published: August 31, 2010
NAIROBI, Kenya — Rwanda stepped up its threats on Tuesday to withdraw thousands of peacekeepers from Sudan if the United Nations publishes a report that accuses Rwandan forces of massacring civilians and possibly committing genocide in Congo years ago. Rwanda appears to be trying to play hardball with the United Nations and is using the fact that the country plays a linchpin role in the troubled Darfur region of Sudan for maximum leverage. Rwanda has 3,300 peacekeepers in Darfur, and a Rwandan general is in charge of the entire 21,800-strong United Nations-African Union peacekeeping mission there.
The United Nations report that Rwanda is trying to block, which was leaked last week to several news organizations in draft form, charges that in the mid-1990s invading troops from Rwanda and their rebel allies killed tens of thousands of members of the Hutu ethnic group, including many civilians. The report presents repeated examples of times when squads of Rwandan soldiers, led by Tutsi commanders, and their Congolese rebel allies lured Hutu refugees with promises they would be repatriated to Rwanda, only to massacre them.
Until recently, Rwanda had been celebrated as one of the most promising success stories in Africa, a nation that had heroically rebuilt itself after a genocide in 1994, boasting impressive economic growth rates, low crime and innovative ways of fighting poverty.
But the perception of Rwanda is beginning to shift. Donor nations have steadily ratcheted up their criticism of Rwanda’s brand of democracy, especially after Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame, won re-election earlier this month by 93 percentage points. Even the United States government, one of Rwanda’s most steadfast supporters, said that it was concerned about “a series of disturbing events prior to the election.” Human rights groups have accused Mr. Kagame’s administration of violently cracking down on dissent and jailing or killing opposition leaders and journalists. As the criticism builds, the Rwandan government seems increasingly prickly. Nothing, though, has made the government react like this report. For the past several weeks, Rwandan officials have been assiduously trying to persuade the United Nations, behind closed doors, not to publish the Congo report — or at least take out the most damning accusations. But now it seems the pressure has spilled out into the open.
According to a statement e-mailed to journalists on Tuesday by Jill Rutaremara, a Rwandan military spokesman: “The Rwanda Defense Force [RDF] has finalized a contingency withdraw plan for its peacekeepers deployed in Sudan in response to a government directive in case the UN publishes its outrageous and damaging report. All logistical and personnel resources are in place. The pullout will take the shortest time possible.
Link to complete NYTimes piece