IMAGE: Rwandan President Paul Kagame
Martin Cleaver  /  AP
Rwandan President Paul Kagame says Hutu extremists hiding in eastern Congo are unlikely to be offered an amnesty for their role in the 1994 Rwanda genocide.
updated 9/18/2006 12:37:44 PM ET 2006-09-18T16:37:44

Hutu extremists accused of masterminding the Rwandan genocide and then fleeing to Congo cannot expect forgiveness, Rwanda’s president said in an interview Sunday.

Paul Kagame, who led the Tutsi rebels who ended the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, said he would work with the new Congolese government to contain the Hutu extremists. But he said he could not envision offering them amnesty, as the Congolese have done for some of their own rebel groups in an effort to bring peace to the country.

“There are no grounds whatsoever to say these people ... should be given any amnesty,” Kagame told The Associated Press in an interview during a stop in London on his way to New York for the U.N. General Assembly meeting.

He said he did not oppose amnesty in all cases, noting other genocide suspects had been forgiven as part of his country’s justice and reconciliation efforts. But he said the groups who fled to Congo included masterminds of the genocide who had shown no remorse. So they must be either brought to justice or militarily defeated.

Entrenched in eastern Congo
Rwanda’s 100-day genocide in 1994 — in which more than 500,000 people, mainly Tutsis and moderate Hutus, were slaughtered — ended when Tutsi-led rebels under Kagame ousted the hardliners.

Rwandan Hutu extremists have been accused of fomenting instability in eastern Congo for years. They remain entrenched in eastern Congo despite a U.N.-led campaign before the recent first round of voting in Congo to quell the threat they pose.

Rwanda has invaded Congo twice since 1996 with the stated aim of hunting down the Hutu extremists who fled there. Rwanda’s second invasion, in 1998, launched Africa into a war that drew in the armies of six nations. The conflict split Western Europe-sized Congo, and caused the deaths of an estimated 3.2 million people in Rwanda-controlled east Congo, primarily through famine and disease.

Kagame has at times struggled to balance democratic values against the need to maintain order and prevent Rwanda backsliding into war. But he also has been credited with keeping his restive country stable and relatively peaceful. That record gives him a certain authority when discussing prospects for peace in his volatile region.

Kagame offered advice to Congo’s next president, expected to emerge from an Oct. 29 run-off.

He counseled whoever won — transitional President Joseph Kabila faces former rebel leader and current transitional Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba in the runoff — to “involve those on the losing side” in forming a government and building political institutions.

Both Congolese run-off candidates lead personal militias that clashed after no one won a majority in the first round, underscoring the possibility Congo could plunge back into widespread violence and chaos and possibly take neighbors like Rwanda with it again.

“Nobody wants to win the election and wind up losing the peace,” Kagame said.

He acknowledged the possibility the loser in the presidential race would return to the battlefield rather than accept a political defeat.

The government of national unity Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front formed and dominated after stopping the genocide was at first nominally headed by a Hutu, with Kagame as vice president and minister of defense. Kagame later took over as president, though not at first by popular vote.

Kagame then won 95 percent of the vote in 2003 in Rwanda’s first multiparty presidential elections since independence from Belgium in 1962. His term expires in 2010 and he is constitutionally allowed to seek just one more.

Kagame says he'll respect term limit
In the interview, Kagame refused to say whether he would run again. But he did say he would respect the constitutional term limit. Several African leaders, including Kagame’s one-time mentor in neighboring Uganda, have in recent years pushed to topple such restrictions, which were meant to keep would-be dictators from cementing holds on power.

Kagame, famous for his soldierly discipline, was composed during the interview. But he revealed emotion at one point, on the subject of the discipline he expects others to maintain.

Rwandans have succeeded in rebuilding their nation because they took responsibility for the violence and for devising processes for coping with its aftermath, said Kagame, who has long accused the international community of doing too little to stop the genocide.

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