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Ousted Rwanda Leadership Displays Bravado in Zaire : Africa: Ex-information chief says Hutu Cabinet, military are reorganizing. No serious threat is seen.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Rwanda’s ousted Hutu government has regrouped here on the Zairian border and is feebly rattling its rusty bloodstained saber.

Even as more Rwandans continue to file out of their country into semi-permanent refugee camps in Zaire, their shadowy, besieged, seldom-seen president and Cabinet are meeting and aspiring to a comeback. Maybe soon. Maybe in 30 years. Who can know?

“It is a good thing the population has come along with the government. These people right now need to look after their own welfare. But, meanwhile, the government and the military are reorganizing,” said Eliezer Niyitegeka, minister of information in the defeated government.

Perhaps the new Tutsi-led army that has taken over Rwanda can be pressured to negotiate power-sharing with the old government, Niyitegeka said. If that is unlikely, he added, “we will prepare to go back by force, by violence.”

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In the short run, Niyitegeka’s threats seem no more than weak bluster. The army of his deposed government was routed in its short, sharp civil war with the Rwandan Patriotic Front, or RPF. Few take seriously the boast of a sudden resumption of fighting.

Moreover, the old government is indelibly stained by blood. An estimated 500,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slain in a few short weeks beginning April 6. On that day, the nation’s Hutu president was killed after a mysterious rocket blew his plane from the sky over the capital, Kigali. The hard-line replacement government, which includes Niyitegeka and President Theodor Sindikubwabo, was sworn in April 9. And the massacres raged on for weeks.

But over the long run, this old government still maintains vast control and influence over Rwanda’s Hutu majority--with more than 1 million of them now encamped in Zaire. It is no exaggeration to call this a government-in-exile of a people-in-exile.

The bitter post-colonial history of Rwanda also adds credibility to the old government’s threats. After all, many of the Tutsi soldiers who now control Rwanda were born in refugee camps in Uganda a generation ago, the result of the same ethnic strife that sent today’s Hutus fleeing.

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Border refugee camps in this Central African region are nothing if not caldrons of hatred, boot camps for revenge.

In a long interview Monday with The Times and the London Daily Telegraph, Niyitegeka talked about the prospects for reconciliation, the massacres and the Hutu view of justice. Now a refugee, he struck a temperate and controlled tone. It was a presentation at odds with the countervailing image of his government in power: a regime that tolerated, even encouraged, the butchering of Tutsis in retribution for the death of the Hutu president.

“As a member of the Cabinet at the time when this occurred, I accept collective responsibility,” he said. “But not just the government is responsible. Every man is responsible--even you. You didn’t come to save these people.”

Niyitegeka insisted that his record in Kigali was of a peacemaker, that as information minister he urged the massacres be stopped.

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But Alixon DesForges, a Washington-based consultant to Human Rights Watch/Africa, an international monitoring group, said, “Numerous witnesses have reported that Niyitegeka was involved at a high level in planning and organizing the (Tutsi) massacre.”

As for the information minister, he observed: “You ask, who committed the massacres? Every individual is responsible for his own actions, good or bad. If any member of the government is responsible for any reprehensible act, he will have to answer. But you cannot generalize and say the whole government is responsible for what happened. . . . If a British citizen kills someone, do you say that all British are killers? . . . It was as if evil forces rose up to cause this calamity.”

Still, he voiced the argument that has become standard fare in refugee conversation: “You cannot reconcile two peoples if only one of them is judged guilty. It’s a matter of justice. What about Tutsis who killed Hutus? There has to be some kind of general amnesty for everybody. You have to forgive one another.”

For its part, the RPF army and its new civilian government are bent on punishment for the slaughter. Some officials have said the list of guilty could be as long as 30,000. The new government has said it will defer to an international war crimes investigation.

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On other subjects, Niyitegeka said:

* Yes, the old government fled with the national treasury. “The government could not leave the money in Kigali, for the RPF are just robbers. . . . We didn’t take it to spend it, but to protect it.”

* He recognized that the presence of a shadow government, plotting its comeback, poses a dilemma for host nation Zaire. Publicly, Zaire has asked the United Nations to find another nation that will grant the Rwandan government amnesty. “But I don’t see how they can force us to go to another country. We are human beings first. We are refugees.”

Niyitegeka said the old government is not concerned about an internal challenge to its authority.

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Times staff writer Robert L. Jackson in Washington contributed to this report.


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