Video: Reconciliation in Rwanda

updated 2/19/2008 7:34:16 PM ET 2008-02-20T00:34:16

On ground haunted by one of the worst atrocities of modern times, President Bush pleaded with the global community Tuesday for decisive action to stop grisly violence in African nations like Kenya and Sudan.

“There is evil in the world and evil must be confronted,” said Bush, shaken by his visit to a museum that tells the story of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide in which more than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered in just 100 days by extremist Hutu militias.

Bush, who famously once wrote “not on my watch” in the margin of a report on the Rwanda massacre, decided not to send U.S. troops into Sudan, focusing instead on imposing sanctions, applying diplomatic pressure and training and transporting other nations’ soldiers for peacekeeping.

He has been particularly frustrated at what he sees as sluggish efforts by other nations against the atrocities that have raged in Sudan’s western Darfur region for five years. Bush has called Darfur’s situation genocide, though others have not. Hoping that his campaign for increased involvement by others would gain more weight from the scene of another genocide, the president used strong language to blast the international effort.

“If you’re a problem solver, you put yourself at the mercy of the decisions of others, in this case, the United Nations,” Bush said. “It is — seems very bureaucratic to me, particularly with people suffering.”

At least 200,000 have been killed in a campaign by militias supported by Sudan’s Arab-dominated government against black African communities in Darfur. Four cease-fires have gone unheeded. And only about 9,000 of an expected 26,000-troop peacekeeping force, a joint effort by the United Nations and the African Union, have been deployed. The Sudanese government has still not agreed to non-African troops and the U.N. has not persuaded governments to supply helicopters.

Bush hoped to spur the world into action with Rwanda’s history, and also its positive example. This tiny Central African nation of lush hills and rugged mountains — about the size of Maryland — was the first to commit peacekeepers to Darfur, and still has the largest contingent there.

“My message to other nations is: ‘Join with the president and help us get this problem solved once and for all,”’ Bush said after meetings with Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

Video: Bush interview The U.S. has spent $600 million on peacekeeping operations in Darfur, including to train and equip peacekeepers from several nations, transport troops and equipment back and forth and operate base camps, according to the White House. On Tuesday, Bush announced that $100 million would be made available for additional training and equipment.

Bush said Rwanda’s history also should serve as a grim warning as the world now watches Kenya disintegrate, with long-simmering ethnic hatreds playing a role in bloodshed that is shockingly brutal for a country once considered among Africa’s most stable.

Foreign and local observers say the December presidential elections that returned Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki to power were rigged. It unleashed weeks of fighting, much of it pitting other ethnic groups against Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe that is resented for dominating politics and business.

“I’m not suggesting that ... anything close to what happened here is going to happen in Kenya,” Bush said. “But I am suggesting there’s some warning signs that the international community needs to pay attention to, and we’re paying attention to it.”

The president and his wife, Laura, spent about 40 minutes at the Kigali Memorial Centre, where a trellis-covered hilltop houses mass graves for about 250,000 victims of Rwanda’s nightmare. Bush appeared sickened by what he saw, including stark stories of child victims — their innocent lives and brutal deaths.

“It can’t help but shake your emotions to their very foundation,” Bush said. By Kagame’s side later, he said: “I just can’t imagine what it would have been like to be a citizen who lived in such horrors, and then had to, you know, gather themselves up and try to live a hopeful life.” And at the dedication of a new $80 million U.S. embassy here, Bush used the term “holocaust museum” to refer to where he had been.

Slideshow: Bush visits Africa

Rwanda was Bush’s third stop in Africa after Benin and Tanzania. He flew to Ghana on Tuesday and will visit Liberia on Thursday

The continuing conflict in neighboring Congo involves many of the same ethnic tensions — and some of the people — as Rwanda’s genocide, and Kagame’s government has a troubled history there. But Bush stepped gingerly in public with his host around what he and advisers had said before his trip would be an effort to nudge Kagame to live up to obligations to help end that violence.

Some of the Rwandan genocide’s perpetrators fled into Congo, prompting fears here of a resurgence. In part as a result, Rwanda invaded Congo in 1998 and the back-to-back multination wars there killed a staggering 5.4 million people. Rwanda was accused of plundering Congo’s resources before the wars ended in 2002 and it pulled its out soldiers.

Still under suspicion
Sporadic violence has continued to plague Congo’s volatile no-man’s-land in the east since then, and some suspect Rwanda of still supplying rebel groups. Bush said he and Kagame talked “for a long time” about last year’s peace accord between Rwanda and Congo and last month’s fragile cease-fire forged between Congo’s government and a rebel warlord and other armed groups. The U.S. helped broker both.

“The most important thing is to get results for the agreement and that’s what we discussed today,” Bush said.

Kagame, a Tutsi, was the leader of a Uganda-based rebel group that ousted the Hutu-dominated government and stopped the genocide. He now leads a coalition government where Hutus and Tutsis split key positions.

But though Bush sees Kagame as a respected ally and a man of action, the Rwandan leader is criticized for authoritarian ways.

A French judge also issued international arrest warrants for nine Rwandans close to Kagame for involvement in the rocket attack that downed the former Rwandan president’s plane and sparked the genocide. Rwanda rejects the charges and broke off diplomatic relations with France. And, last week, a Spanish judge indicted 40 members of the military under Kagame, accusing them of committing atrocities while fighting to take power and staging mass killings of Hutus afterward in both Rwanda and Congo.

Paul Rusesabagina, the hotel manager whose heroism in the face of genocide inspired the movie “Hotel Rwanda” and was awarded the Medal of Freedom in 2005 by Bush, urged the president to push for justice. “Not a single one of them has been punished,” he wrote in a letter. “You, Mr. President, have the power to change Rwanda for the better.”

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