Date: Sun, 18 Apr 1999 22:14:28 -0500 (CDT)
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Rwanda's Main Party Apologises For The 1994 Genocide
By Jean Baptiste Kayigamba, IPS, 14 April 1999
KIGALI, Apr 14 (IPS) - Rwanda's main political party, which incited Hutus to slaughter their Tutsi neighbours, has asked for forgiveness for its role in the 1994 genocide.
"The MDR asks for forgiveness from all Rwandans for the divisive campaign propagated by some of its leaders, which became the basis of the Hutu 'power' and which led to the 1994 genocide," says the party's new chairman, Pierre Celestin Rwigema.
Rwigema, who held a news conference in the Rwandan capital of Kigali at the weekend, says they have began reforming the Mouvement Democratique Republicain (MDR) since the murderers lost power in the tiny Central African country in 1994.
The reform includes the changing of the party's flag from red- black, which reinforced the Hutu supremacy, into red-green. "The 'green' epitomises hope for a reconciled and unified Rwanda. While the 'red' represents the Tutsi and Hutu blood," he explains.
Although "the party has apologised for the 1994 tragedy", Rwegiya says the MDR should not be held "responsible for the crimes committed by former Hutu politicians."
"Our role is to pinpoint the mistakes of each one of us and help the judicial process takes its course," he explains.
Rwegiya's apology came only a few days after the Rwandan President Pasteur Bizimungu urged Hutus, during the fifth anniversary of the genocide, which was commemorated in the southwestern region of Kibeho, to ask for forgiveness from Tutsis.
Up to one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered by the MDR supporters and Hutu militias, known as the interahamwe (those who fight together in Kinyarwanda), in Rwanda in 1994.
All the massacres were perpetrated in the name of Hutus, Bizimungu said. "So the Hutus should ask for forgiveness," he pointed out.
MDR was launched in 1957 at the peak of Rwanda's demands for independence from Belgium. To woo the majority Hutus, the MDR issued its infamous "Hutu manifesto", to win votes in the 1961 elections.
During the 1957 campaign, MDR called upon Hutus, who make up about 85 percent of Rwanda's eight million people, to rise against Tutsis who "oppressed them for centuries".
Tutsis were murdered throughout the country, their cattle confiscated, their houses destroyed, and hundreds of thousands fled to neighbouring countries where they spent more than 30 years in exile.
In 1994, the children of the refugees, who organised themselves under the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), seized power in Rwanda, following four years of fighting.
Three months before they seized power, genocide broke out in Rwanda, after the plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana from a peace talks in Tanzania was shot down over the capital Kigali on Apr 6.
Despite the MDR's apology, many Tutsis remain skeptical. "If the MDR party is committed to change, and to burying its past, it should take a new name and reject the old one which is a reminder of the atrocities committed in the names of Hutus," one genocide survivor told IPS.
But the MDR leaders insist they are sincere in their apology. "The former leaders did not bother asking for pardon, so we want to make a difference and apologise," says MDR first deputy president, Stanley Safari.
"The MDR has certainly that past haunting it, and the people of Rwanda will keep seeing some kind of image of the past in the existence of the MDR," says Rwanda's vice-president Paul Kagame, who commanded the RPF during the 1990-1994 rebellion.
More than 124,000 Hutus, who have been accused of taking part in the 1994 genocide, languish in Rwandan jails.
[c] 1999, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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