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Military Victor Hopes To Lead Rwanda To Ethnic Reconciliation With AM-Rwanda

August 23, 1994

KIGALI, Rwanda (AP) _ He fled the country as a toddler to escape ethnic killings. Thirty-three years later, Paul Kagame returned at the head of a victorious rebel army, determined to end his country’s cycles of ethnic terror.

The thin, ascetic Kagame - nicknamed Commander Pilate for his harsh treatment of wrongdoers - led what military analysts say was a brilliant campaign to oust the Hutu government, which had ignited the slaughter of up to 500,000 of his fellow Tutsis.

Since winning the war in early July, Kagame has stressed the prevention of reprisals and the rebuilding of a shattered Rwanda. Above all, he is calling on the Hutus and Tutsis to be one.

″Whatever we do, we try to make sure it works in the direction of preventing the cycles of violence,″ he told The Associated Press in an interview. ″We have to be broad-minded in looking at problems we all face as Rwandese, rather than looking at ourselves as Tutsis or Hutus.″

The 37-year-old Kagame, bespectacled and intense, admitted the tasks before him were monumental. He and the new government must attract large amounts of international aid and convince fearful Hutus - who make up some 90 percent of the population - that they will be equal partners.

Kagame must curb revenge-thirsty Tutsis who, he admits, are committing some atrocities, while at the same time bring those Hutus responsible for the carnage to justice.

Analysts say he must avoid the temptation to hold on to power, a pattern that has brought bloodshed and economic ruin to one African country after another. If Kagame keeps to his stated course, he would be an exception rather than the rule on the continent.

″He knows what he wants for this country. I believe he means what he says,″ said Abdul Kabia, deputy head of the U.N. mission in Rwanda, who has known Kagame for years and is impressed with his dedication and enlightened platform.

The prime minister and president of Rwanda’s new government are Hutus. Although Kagame is only a vice president and defense minister, Kabia described him as ″the power behind the throne.″

″Nothing of significance gets done in this country if he doesn’t clear it,″ Kabia said.

Kagame’s influence flows from his command of the victorious Rwandan Patriotic Army, his personal qualities and a drive that he attributes to life as a refugee who always wanted to return home.

Born in southern Rwanda, Kagame’s family fled to neighboring Uganda in the wake of anti-Tutsi attacks when he was only 4. Although he grew up in refugee camps, Kagame was able to attend high school in Uganda and enter Makerere University in Kampala.

Reportedly incensed by the injustices under the Ugandan government of Milton Obote, he dropped his studies to join the eventually victorious Ugandan rebel army, in which he rapidly rose to the position of intelligence chief.

Crespo Sebunya, a news editor of Uganda’s Business World, has written that Kagame developed a reputation for being both incorruptible and severe - even ruthless - in dealing with wrongdoers, going so far as to execute soldiers for robbery and treason. His merciless pursuit of justice earned him the nickname Commander Pilate, after Pontius Pilate, who sentenced Jesus Christ to death.

Kagame helped to plan the invasion of Rwanda from Ugandan soil, but the first offensive in 1990 failed. Three top commanders were killed and the troops fell back in disarray.

Kagame, who was taking an officers course at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., at the time, returned to take charge. A strict disciplinarian who neither drinks nor smokes, he forged a tough, lean force of between 10,000 to 14,000 soldiers that faced an army more than double its size.

He also called on Hutus to join him.

″Basically, every one of us was motivated. That was the main weapon of our success,″ he recalled of the 14-week light infantry war that began in April and is already being studied by military analysts.

U.S. Army Col. Karl Farris, serving with the U.S. military mission in Rwanda, said Kagame devised ″an exceptional plan and strategy″ that focused on conserving his forces by never engaging in a set battle with government troops.

Kagame, he said, would isolate an enemy concentration, gradually collapse the morale of its defenders with long-range fire and allow them an exit. Unimportant pockets of government troops were bypassed as his army surged toward the capital, Kigali.

Although he still wears his green camouflage fatigues, most of Kagame’s time these days is spent blueprinting the country’s uncertain future.

″My vision for Rwanda is a nation that is united, where people look upon themselves as Rwandese and learn how to solve problems among themselves.″

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