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Revenge Cannot Heal Rwanda

April 26, 1998

Rebuilding a nation shattered by blood feuds requires reconciliation, not retribution. The new South African regime is teaching Africa that lesson with a democratic government that protects the rights of a white minority that had been a cruel oppressor for long, dark decades. Under Johannesburg's constructive application of justice, whites and blacks are now being treated evenhandedly, in a way that respects the best interests of a united nation and all its peoples.

Now comes Rwanda, a country that refuses to learn such lessons. In a soccer stadium in Kigali on Friday and at other places, soldiers of the Tutsi-led government mowed down soldiers of the Hutu people who had been their foes in a years-long struggle for control of the country. Ethnic hatreds will surely be fueled by this brutal performance, perhaps the most senseless official act since the 1994 genocide that claimed as many as half a million Tutsis and some moderate Hutus in the contest for power.

The public spectacle repels a world that otherwise may have been willing to help Rwanda recuperate. It hurts all of Africa. Yes, the minority government, dominated by Tutsis, seeks justice for past crimes. Yes, Hutu killers should be prosecuted and punished appropriately. But no one should be gunned down while 30,000 political opponents and survivors watch.

Rwanda's President Pasteur Bizimungu rejected international appeals for clemency. His government said the executions were meant to "act as a lesson to people who do not respect the life of others." The only lesson this abomination can offer is eye-for-an-eye bloodletting.

Without power sharing, the Rwandan situation can never be settled. Tutsis represent barely 10% of the population, and the enmity with Hutus has lasted for many decades. The rights of all must be respected if healing is to begin. It's impossible to bury the horror of genocide among both peoples at this point. Only time and good governance can do that.

Many outsiders wring their hands at the barriers to change, but outsiders can help. President Clinton, during his recent visit, announced a $60-million foreign aid package to speed development of the justice system in Rwanda. Washington certainly didn't have public mass executions in mind.

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