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Hope is Not Lost

By Jimmy Carter

Published by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

While the world's attention has been focused on Bosnia-Herzegovina lately, there are almost 500 violent deaths in Burundi every week, and that number is expected to increase.

The world looked the other way last year when half a million Rwandans died in the worst case of genocide since World War II. Another 100,000 people were killed in Burundi the year before. Instead of increasing its efforts to resolve this crisis, the international peace-keeping force is being withdrawn.

Two million exiles, mostly Hutus, now live in crowded camps in Zaire and Tanzania. They are restive and afraid - and a few are armed and aggressive. Militant Hutu refugees conduct night raids into Rwanda and return to their camps in Zaire before daybreak.

U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali has appealed for an international force to separate militant from peaceful Hutu refugees and maintain security in the camps, but only Zaire has provided such assistance.

Tutsi government leaders in Rwanda feel threatened by Hutu militants from Burundi, Zaire and Tanzania, and their army reacts with violence. These skirmishes threaten to erupt into broad-scale war.

But these same Tutsi leaders have taken few steps toward reconciliation with Hutu refugees or encourage their repatriation. Almost 50,000 Hutu prisoners are jailed in the most egregious conditions, a graphic demonstration of what refugees might expect from their government if they return home.

Can anything be done to resolve this crisis?

A strong military force on the border between Zaire and Rwanda could create a buffer between warring groups. In addition, the flow of weapons to refugees should be restricted, with U.N. monitors at Goma and other key airports.

Strong international peacekeepers could help, but the Rwandan government is demanding that they withdraw. The international community should insist that the Rwandan government approve the maintenance of adequate U.N. forces.

Ultimately, African leaders must be the prime source of beneficial influence on this inflamed region.

The Tutsis in Rwanda and Burundi have close ties with Uganda and Tanzania, and Hutus have long been associated with Zaire. All the leaders tell me that Zairian President Mobutu Sese Seko could play a key role if he were included in a concerted international effort. But because of human rights violations and a lack of progress toward democracy in Zaire, Mobutu is almost universally condemned and ostracized by American and other western officials.

In my discussions with leaders of all these African nations, they express deep concern about suffering in Rwanda and Burundi and about the violence spreading into their own countries. But they have been frustrated in their attempts to address the crisis.

For now, attention must be given to basic economics - land reform, food production and the efficient use of the limited financial assistance that is available. The judicial systems need strong support, and tentative dialogues between the Hutus and Tutsis in both Rwanda and Burundi must be strengthened.

The U.S. Agency for International Development is attempting to coordinate donor efforts in addressing some of these serious problems. This month, I will visit with African leaders, and The Carter Center will assess the overall situation.

Is it possible to marshal renewed involvement of the international community, including full support for a common and sustained peace effort by the regional leaders?

Our only option is to assume the situation is not hopeless.

Former President Jimmy Carter heads The Carter Center, a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization in Atlanta.

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