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Silent Massacre

Brass Tacks

By Michael D. Barone

No one is quite sure how many people have been killed in the small, overpopulated African republic of Rwanada since the beginning of the year. But it is clear that some kind of slaughter is taking place; one report estimates the toll at a thousand daily. Almost all the victims are members of the Tutsi (or Watusi) tribe, usually remembered for their great height--many Tutsi are seven feet tall. The people slaughtering the Tutsi are the Hutu, who make up 85% of Rwanda's population.

Genocide, then, is not an inappropriate description of what is happening in Rwanda. Violence between Tutsi and Hutu has long been imminent. For centuries, the Tutsi held the Hutu in a type of feudal boundage. The Belgians allowed Tutsi domination to continue when they took over Ruanda-Urundi (now divided into Rwanda and the Kingdom of Burundi) after World War I. Only in 1959 did the Hutu overthrow the Tutsi's jealously guarded hegemony.

After this revolution, about 75,000 Tutsi fled to neighboring Burundi, Uganda, and Tanganyika. The victory of the Parmehutu (Parti d'Emancipation des Hutu) in elections of October, 1961, further weakened the Tutsi's position. The Tutsi king, or Mwami, went into exile. The number of Tutsi refugees in surrounding territories doubled by July, 1962, when Rwanda and Burundi gained independence.

The Hutu have reason to hate the Tutsi. For years the Tutsi refused to share any power or to intermarry with the Hutu in Rwanda, while their fellow tribesmen in Burundi followed a more flexible policy. And last December, Tutsi refugees launched a futile attack on Rwanda, breaking an uneasy tribal peace. Thousands of Tutsi have been murdered in retaliation since Christmas, and thousands more have had to flee Rwanda.

There appears to be no way to stop the slaughter. Despite extensive contrary evidence, the Rwanda government denies that the Tutsi are being massacred. A five-man UN mission investigated Tutsi raids, but was unable to discover much; presumably, the Parmehutu officials in Rwanda were uncooperative. Assemblies of African states, preoccupied with military revolts in Uganda and Tanganyika, have been reluctant to intervene.

Clearly, there is no place for the Tutsi in Rwanda; their only hope lies in continued flight. But there may be little room for them eleswhere, as refugee camps grow more crowded. It is unlikely that the Tutsi can be absorbed easily into surrounding nations; the fertile Rift Valley in which they are situated is already the most densely populated area in Africa.

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