24 May 2006

Central Africa: Relations 'Excellent,' Says U.S. Ambassador Arietti

Washington, DC — Speaking on the eve of Rwandan President Paul Kagame's visit to the White House, U.S. Ambassador Michael Arietti says relations between the two countries are "excellent," largely because of the contributions the landlocked African nation is making to domestic reconciliation and peace in the troubled Great Lakes region and Darfur, Sudan.

In a May 24 interview with the Washington File, Arietti said, "We have three main goals here. One is to encourage regional stability, another is to promote economic development and the third is to promote democracy and respect for human rights and good governance." The Rwandans are making inroads on all fronts, he said.

In 2004, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) provided more than $3.5 million to democracy programs in Rwanda, including $1 million for judicial reform and national reconciliation programs. Overall U.S. aid now totals $80 million, of which $70 million is helping Rwandans battle the effects of HIV/AIDS, Arietti said.

On the question of reconciliation, Arietti said, "Rwanda has come a huge distance in the 12 years since the genocide" when a Hutu-dominated regime and its ethnic allies slaughtered 800,000 of its minority Tutsi citizens in a three-month period.

"Things are not perfect here," he added, "but as you assess Rwanda today, it's very important to keep in mind where the country was and how much it has achieved in this last 12 years."

Arietti, a former Peace Corps volunteer in India who became a career Foreign Service officer in 1973, said, "Rwanda is unique. It is the only country in the world that I am aware of that is attempting to bring about national reconciliation between the perpetrators and the victims of the genocide."

Trying to describe a process that is almost indescribable, Arietti said, "You basically have a situation here where people are living side-by-side who 12 years ago were killing each other. The scars of the genocide are still real and felt. So, this process of national reconciliation is unique and is quite remarkable."

The challenge of reconciliation is daunting because it involves bringing 80,000 individuals to justice. But the Rwandans are meeting it with a three-tier system of trials that are in the process of getting under way, the diplomat explained.

Asked why it has taken so long, Arietti said, "You have to understand that most of the nation's judges and legal staff were killed or fled. The judicial infrastructure was destroyed and is basically being built up."

As part of its democracy program, USAID helped train 551 Gacaca [traditional] judges who in turn trained 21,630 sector [local] judges who will preside over many of the lower-tiered trials of individuals accused of genocide.

Arietti said the Rwandans also were making a substantial contribution to conflict resolution by helping keep on track the Tripartite Peace Process -- the Great Lakes initiative involving the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Burundi and Uganda, which began two years ago with U.S. help.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Don Yamamoto is traveling to Kigali May 25-27 to take part in the 14th meeting of the confidence-building process that has lessened tensions in the volatile eastern Congo region. (See related article.)

"This is an extremely critical confidence-building measure for the region," Arietti said, and the Rwandans are playing an important role in the process.

On another front, Arietti noted that Rwanda also is contributing to peace through its "role in Darfur, where they have over 2,000 troops participating in the AU [African Union] mission there. They [Rwandans] are very effective and highly regarded and have been an important force in stopping the genocide in Darfur."

Rwanda has "very much the same goals as we do in Darfur and so we appreciate their help," Arrieti emphasized. "As a matter of fact, we provided just about all of the airlift for the Rwandan forces to deploy to Darfur."

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