Bush urges action to stop bloodshed in Africa

February 19, 2008 8:06:31 PM PST
President Clinton once said on a visit to this teeming city that the U.S and the rest of the world "could have and should have" done more to stop the slaughter here a decade ago. After President Bush took office, he wrote "not on my watch" on a report on the Rwandan massacre. When Bush visited here Tuesday, in the midst of new killing in Africa, he criticized other countries and the U.N., not his own government, for allowing the horrors that have unfolded in Sudan's western Darfur region for the past five years.

The U.S. has imposed sanctions, applied diplomatic pressure and trained and transported other nations' soldiers for peacekeeping. But Bush decided not to send troops into Sudan on the advice of some humanitarian groups, and it took three years before he announced sanctions. This prompted criticism that his actions don't match his impassioned rhetoric.

Bush has called the situation in Darfur genocide, though others have not. He spoke Tuesday in the capital of Rwanda, a country where more than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered in just 100 days by Hutu militias in 1994. He hoped that that his campaign for increased involvement by others in Darfur would gain weight from ground still haunted by one of the worst atrocities of modern times.

The president used strong language to criticize an international effort he has often called sluggish and disappointing.

"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."

Of his own administration, he said: "When we see suffering, we just don't sit around and talk about it, we act upon it."

At least 200,000 have been killed in the five-year campaign by militias supported by Sudan's Arab-dominated government against black African communities in Darfur for suspected rebel support. 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, as well as its positive example. This tiny Central African nation of rolling green hills and rugged highlands - 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.

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 experience also should serve as a grim warning as the world now watches Kenya disintegrate - also in part over old ethnic grievances. Long-simmering tribal rivalries are playing a role in bloodshed that is shockingly ferocious 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, in which extremist Hutu militias incited by the government hacked, shot and beat to death their Tutsi and moderate Hutu countrymen. Bush appeared sickened by what he saw outside and inside at the museum, including stark stories of children lost - their innocent lives and unbelievably 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.

"There is evil in the world and evil must be confronted," he said.

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 killing, 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 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 5.4 million people. Rwanda was accused of plundering Congo's resources before the wars ended in 2002 and it pulled its out soldiers.

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, commanded 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 leading a country with shattered memories and a growing economy, 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 earned him the Medal of Freedom from Bush in 2005, 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."