Clinton visits victims of war He acknowledges world was slow to act in Rwandan genocide; 'We're still not organized'; U.S., African leaders later vow to prevent recurrence of killings

KIGALI, RWANDA — KIGALI, Rwanda -- President Clinton came to Kigali yesterday to talk to scarred and mutilated survivors of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and to acknowledge that the world could have protected them, though it did not.

"We in the United States and the world community did not do as much as we could have and should have done to try to limit what occurred in Rwanda in 1994," the president told a half-dozen people in Kigali who lost parents, siblings and children during three months of ethnic mass killing that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.


Later, in Entebbe, Uganda, Clinton and six African leaders ended a summit with pledges to banish genocide from the continent and to promote democracy.

The meeting in Uganda followed the brief but emotional trip by Clinton to Kigali, where he was visibly moved by what he heard in the meeting with survivors of the three-month civil war that began in April 1994.


After listening in Kigali to the victims' stories of hiding among corpses, of being cut with machetes, and of watching hundreds die, Clinton said in a speech that "we cannot change the past," but that nations should learn from it.

In his meeting with the victims and in the speech to an invited audience in Kigali, Clinton called for sharper vigilance against genocide and swifter prosecution of its perpetrators in a new permanent international criminal court.

He told the survivors, who gathered at the Kigali airport, that the international community was not organized to deal with such violence.

"And we're still not organized to deal with it," he continued, citing as another example from his years in office the slow reaction to ethnic killing in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Clinton said it took his administration "more than two years" to reach consensus internally and with American allies "to go in and stop all that killing."

Rep. Maxine Waters, a California Democrat who is traveling with the president, said Clinton felt guilty that the United States had not intervened early on to halt the Rwandan genocide. But in his speech, the president did not go as far as he did in his talk with the survivors toward accepting blame for the United States.

In the speech, delivered to a couple of hundred diplomats and Rwandan government officials, Clinton did not single out the United States, but said that the "international community, together with nations in Africa, must bear its share of responsibility for this tragedy, as well."

Clinton repeatedly said that the genocide was planned. "It is important that the world know that these killings were not spontaneous or accidental," he said.


Clinton's remarks yesterday followed a speech in Uganda on Tuesday in which he departed from his prepared text to express regret for American failures in Africa, from benefiting from the slave trade to dealing with dictators.

The United States was more resistant than some of its European allies to putting a large United Nations force in Rwanda after leaders of the majority ethnic group there, the Hutu, began a campaign to wipe out a minority, the Tutsi, in April 1994. The Clinton administration had just been scalded by its peace mission in Somalia, in which 18 American soldiers died.

Tutsi rebels, operating from bases in Uganda, succeeded in replacing the Hutu regime that year with what is essentially a military government. The president there, Pasteur Bizimungu, is a Hutu, and the Clinton administration is convinced that the Tutsi-dominated government is bent on national reconciliation and democracy.

But the genocide still reverberates there. Hutu insurgents are fighting in the northwest, and Rwandan troops have been accused of killing civilians in reprisals for their raids.

"Our post-genocidal society is fragile," warned Bizimungu, in a speech in which he thanked Clinton for his "commitment to helping our people overcome the ravages of genocide." He said that in judging the progress of Rwanda, other nations should treat it as a "special case."

Several Rwandans said that the United States, like other nations, should have acted earlier to stop the genocide, but they seemed less interested in pointing fingers than in moving on.


"Everybody is to blame," said Sam Nkusi, a government official. He said that "to feel the president of the United States shares our sadness and the tragedy with us is very good."

Rwanda was added late to Clinton's six-country tour of Africa. Administration officials said that Secret Service nervousness, not White House fears of addressing genocide, delayed the decision.

After analyzing the situation, the Secret Service agreed to a presidential visit, officials said. But Clinton did not leave the airport during his three and a half hours in Kigali, and the engines of Air Force One never ceased idling.

To the disappointment of some Rwandan officials, Clinton did not visit the genocide memorial built at the airport in advance of his visit. The Secret Service considered the site, on a hillock, to be too exposed to the surrounding hills, said Mike McCurry, the White House spokesman.

In his speech, Clinton pointed to three errors by the international community: not acting quickly to halt the killing, permitting refugee camps in neighboring Zaire to become havens for Hutu killers and not immediately labeling the killings "genocide."

Although the killings were widely reported, Clinton suggested that he did not appreciate its magnitude at the time. "All over the world there were people like me sitting in offices, day after day after day, who did not fully appreciate the depth and the speed with which you were being engulfed by this unimaginable terror."


But Clinton looked to the future as well. "We must have global vigilance," he said. "And never again must we be shy in the face of the evidence."

The president said that "at the dawn of the new millennium there is only one crucial division" among people, and that it was not that between Hutu and Tutsi or Arabs and Jews. "It is really the line between those who embrace the common humanity we all share and those who reject it."

Clinton then looked up and declared with emotion: "When you look at those children who greeted us as we got off that plane today, how could anyone say they did not want those children to have a chance to have their own children? To experience the joy of another morning sunrise? To learn the normal lessons of life? To give something back to their people?"

In a statement issued after the Entebbe meeting, the leaders pledged new efforts to prevent genocide and combat cross-border terrorist attacks that continue to destabilize many countries in the region. Many of the attacks have been carried out by groups linked to those who carried out the Rwandan genocide.

The document promised U.S.-African partnership to expand democracy and economic progress on the continent as well acting against genocide.

Clinton said he wanted to increase U.S. aid to Africa to its previous level of about $815 million a year, up from about $700 million.


Pub Date: 3/26/98