Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Bush commemorates Rwanda genocide

KIGALI - Evil must be confronted wherever it surfaces in the world, US President George W. Bush said yesterday when he commemorated the Rwandan genocide. After seeing graphic reminders of one of the darkest chapters in Africa’s recent history, Bush called for increased international efforts for Darfur, which he has also labelled as genocide.

Bush and his wife, Laura, visited a memorial to the 1994 genocide, in which at least 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu were murdered by Hutu extremists. At a museum, where the remains of some 250,000 victims are buried, he viewed pictures of children who were killed and laid a wreath at a memorial. “One of the lessons of the genocide in Rwanda was to take some of the early warning signs seriously,” Bush said at a news conference with Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame on the third stop of his five-nation African tour. He called attention to the conflict in Darfur and criticised the United Nations for moving too slowly to send more peacekeepers. It “seems very bureaucratic to me, particularly with people suffering,” he remarked.

The United States has been pressing for the deployment of a 26,000-strong UN-African Union peacekeeping force to Darfur, where experts estimate at least 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million have been driven from their homes. Sudan says 9,000 people have died. Bush also announced the US was making available $100 million to help train and equip peacekeepers for Darfur, including $12 million to Rwanda. He said he still believed he made the right decision not to unilaterally deploy US forces to Darfur but that meant having to deal with a slow UN response.

The memories of the genocide were a sober interlude after Bush’s three-day visit to Tanzania, where he was feted by cheering crowds. In the past, genocide survivors criticised the US for not intervening to stop the slaughter in Rwanda. “There’s nothing we can tell him. We do not even plan on meeting him because I am sure he knows about the plight of Rwanda genocide survivors,” Theodore Simburudali, president of the Ibuka genocide survivor group, said. In 1998, US President Bill Clinton, who was in power at the time of the genocide, visited Rwanda and apologised for not making more of an effort to stop the killings. Kagame, like the other presidents on Bush’s tour, is regarded by Washington as one of a new generation of progressive African leaders. The Rwandan President thanked Bush for the attention he has paid to Africa. “You have raised the bar of American-African relations to a level which the next president of the United States should not lower,” he said.

Unpopular elsewhere in the world for his handling of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush is respected in many parts of Africa, where he has spent more money on aid than Clinton. He has pledged to increase total assistance to $8.7 billion by 2010, double the 2004 levels. The focus for Bush on this trip has been to highlight US-funded efforts to fight AIDS and malaria, and provide economic development assistance. “People say: why would you want to come to Africa at this point in your presidency? Because I’m on a mission of mercy is why,” Bush said. But he is not visiting Kenya, despite stopping in neighbouring Tanzania and Rwanda. He sent Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Nairobi on Monday to help former UN chief Kofi Annan end a post-election crisis that has killed 1,000 people.

Bush began his trip to the continent, the second since he came to power, with a brief stop in Benin and will next go to Ghana and Liberia before returning home tomorrow.

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