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The Rwandan Civil War was a conflict within the Central African nation of Rwanda between the government of President Juvénal Habyarimana and the rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). The conflict began on 2 October 1990 when the RPF invaded and ostensibly ended on August 4, 1993 with the signing of the Arusha Accords to create a power-sharing government.

However, the assassination of Habyarimana in April 1994 proved to be the catalyst for the Rwandan Genocide, the commonly quoted death toll for which is 800,000. The closely interrelated causes of the war and genocide led some observers to assume that the reports of mass killings were in fact some new flaring of the war, rather than a different phase. The RPF restarted their offensive, eventually taking control of the country. The Hutu government-in-exile then proceeded to use refugee camps in neighboring countries to destabilize the new RPF government. The RPF and its proxy rebel forces prosecuted the First Congo War (1996-1997), which led in turn to the Second Congo War (1998-2003), all of which involved a Hutu force with the objective of regaining control of Rwanda. Thus while the civil war officially lasted until 1993, some literature have the war ending with the RPF capture of Kigali in 1994 or with the disbanding of the refugee camps in 1996, while some consider the presence of small rebel groups along the Rwandan border to mean that the civil war is ongoing.


Background Edit

The ethnic tensions between the Hutu majority and the Tutsi minority had their roots in the Belgian colonial era, where the ruling Belgian authorities empowered the Tutsi aristocracy, and cemented the second class status of Hutus, in what had previously been a fairly fluid social dynamic. Upon leaving Rwanda, Belgian diplomats stirred the pot by reversing their favoritism, encouraging nationalist Hutu uprisings in the name of democracy. Episodes of violent attacks and reprisals between Hutus and Tutsis flared up in the first two decades following Rwanda's independence, building tensions and resentment that would explode in the civil war and genocide of the 1990s[2].

A new wave of ethnic tensions were unleashed in 1990. One of the main causes was a slumping economy and food shortages. Throughout the year, the country was subject to bad weather and lessening coffee prices. These problems helped create a dangerous political climate. Further political tension was evident following a call by the French President for increased democracy in Francophone Africa. France, though not traditionally associated with Rwanda, began to show that it would put political pressure on Rwanda if it didn't make concessions to democracy. Many Rwandans heard the call, and began forming a democracy movement which protested during the summer.[citation needed]

Another source of mounting tensions in 1990, were the grumblings of the Tutsi diaspora. Those Tutsis who had been exiled over thirty years were now coming together in an organized group known as the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF). The Hutus in Rwanda considered these Tutsis an evil aristocracy which had rightly been exiled. They pointed out that the descendants of these Tutsis no longer had any knowledge of Rwanda, and spoke English instead of French. The exiled Tutsis, however, demanded recognition of their rights as Rwandans; including, naturally, the right to return there. These Tutsis began to pressure the Rwandan government, and eventually forced the Habyarimana government to make concessions.[citation needed] The RPF was under the command of Major-General Fred Rwigema, who had risen to be deputy minister of defense in Uganda. However, growing xenophobia had led to his removal and new legislation prohibiting non-Ugandan nationals, including Rwandan refugees, from owning land. It was this "push" factor from Uganda, as much as the "pull" of their ancestral homes, that led the RPF to fight for citizenship in Rwanda.

Habyarimana found himself forced to set up a national committee to examine the "Concept of Democracy" and to work on the formation of a "National Political Charter" which would help reconcile the Hutus and Tutsis. During this crucial point in negotiations the situation went bad. The RPF was simply unwilling to wait any longer for the Rwandan government to come through on its promises.


Failed 1990 invasion Edit

At 2:30 pm on October 1, 1990 fifty RPF rebels crossed the border from Uganda, killing customs guards. They were followed by hundreds more rebels, dressed in the uniforms of the Ugandan national army. The rebel force, composed primarily of second-generation Tutsis, numbered over four thousand troops who were well-trained in the Ugandan army and had combat experience from the Ugandan Bush War. The RPF rebels, organized in a clandestine cell structure, had simply deserted their posts and taken their weapons with them. RPF demands included an end to ethnic segregation and the system of identity cards, as well as other political and economic reforms that portrayed the RPF as a democratic and tolerant organization seeking to depose a dangerous and corrupt regime.[3] Both President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and President Habyarimana of Rwanda were in New York attending the United Nations World Summit for Children. The role of Uganda was immediately brought into question. Museveni, in a conference with fellow African heads of state years later, stated that the RPF had launched the invasion "without prior consultation" and "faced with [a] fait accompli situation by our Rwandan brothers," Uganda decided "to help the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF), materially, so that they are not defeated because that would have been detrimental to the Tutsi people of Rwanda and would not have been good for Uganda's stability."

Originally the 5000 men[citation needed] of the invading force made good progress against the numerically superior but poorly trained soldiers of the Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR), which numbered only 5200 itself. However RPF commander Fred Rwigema was killed by his subcommander Peter Bayingana on the third day of the war. Nevertheless, on October 4 the government called upon Belgium for assistance as the RPF offensive advanced to Gatsibo and Gabiro, about 45 miles from Kigali.

The offensive failed in large part due to the forces sent by Zaire and France to support their ally. Several hundred troops of the elite Zairian Special Presidential Division (DSP) arrived. France rushed the 1st and 3rd companies of the 8th Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment, consisting of 125 men, from the Central African Republic in Operation Noroît.[8][9] It also shipped artillery, mortars and other materiel to Rwanda, stating that they were countering "aggression launched from an English-speaking country."[10] France, which had signed a defense pact with Habyarimana in 1975, insisted that its forces had been deployed strictly to protect its nationals, but the parachute companies set up positions blocking the RPF advance to the capital and airport. Col. René Galinié had command of the initial deployment, but was replaced by Col. Jean-Claude Thomann on the 19th of October. Operation Noroît would eventually include parts of the 2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment, 3rd Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment and 13th Parachute Dragoon Regiment.[9] At first, Belgium also supported the government but cut all lethal aid shortly after hostilities began, citing a domestic law prohibiting their military from taking part in a civil war. France, in contrast, saved the regime and gave significant military and financial support, thus replacing Belgium as Rwanda's major foreign sponsor.

On October 7 the government forces launched a counter-offensive. The RPF who had only prepared for a short war began to fall back when it became clear that they did not have the heavy equipment needed to face the government forces in a conventional conflict.[citation needed] Major Paul Kagame, who was in the United States taking a course at the Command and General Staff College, was contacted and returned to take control of the rebel forces. To make matters worse, on 23 October[citation needed] two more RPF commanders, Maj. Peter Bayingana, who had taken de facto command, and Chris Bunyenyezi, were arrested by Salim Saleh, the Ugandan president's brother, for the murder of Rwigyema and brought back to Uganda for interrogation and eventual execution. The RPF force was thrown into confusion and by the end of the month, had been pushed back into Akagera National Park in the northeast corner of the country. French spotter planes were used to find retreating RPF units so they could be destroyed by the FAR.

On the night 4 October, the Rwandan government staged a fake attack on Kigali, complete with gunfire and explosions around the city. This piece of theater was intended to frighten the populace into supporting the war and encouraging the reporting of suspected RPF sympathizers among the Tutsi. Over 10,000 people were arrested. The reaction also included directed killing. A witness testified that, on October 2nd, para-commandos under Major Aloys Ntabakuze separated civilians fleeing the fighting at Umutara into Hutu and Tutsi, and used grenades to kill the Tutsi. Eight days later, another witness testified that Ntabakuze ordered the ethnic cleansing of a village called Bahima. Ten days after the invasion, local officials in Kibilira were told to kill the local inyenzi and burn down their homes because of the threat of the RPF offensive. At least 348 civilians were killed in 48 hours.


Topographical map. The RPF was pushed into Akagera National Park, an area of rolling hills and savanna in the northeast corner, but Kagame moved them to the forested Virunga Mountains in the central north.On his arrival Paul Kagame began to reorganize his forces, which had been reduced to less than 2000 troops, and decided to develop a guerrilla style war in the north of the country. He pulled his forces back into Uganda and then moved them into the forested Virunga mountains. The RPF spent two months in this area, without engaging the government forces. This time was spent reorganising the army and rebuilding the leadership that had suffered so much during the fighting. During this time the RPF also benefited from the recruitment of men from the Tutsi diaspora, in particular the Banyamulenge of Zaire, who were increasingly the targets of local discrimination. Therefore by early 1991 the RPF had grown to 5,000 men, by 1992 it had reached 12,000 and by the 1994 genocide numbered 25,000.


Guerilla war Edit

In order to kick start the guerrilla war, Kagame planned an audacious attack on the northern town of Ruhengeri. This had the aim of targeting a city in the north, a stronghold of the Habyarimana regime, as well as spreading insecurity to other towns throughout the country. On 23 January 1991 the RPF captured Ruhengeri, freeing numerous political prisoners and capturing a large amount of weapons and equipment, before retreating back to the forests that evening.

The town of Ruhengeri, with the Virunga Mountains in the backgroundFollowing this action the RPF withdrew and began to carry out a classic hit and run style guerilla war. Low intensity fighting dragged on with neither side managing to inflict any major defeats on the other. The RPF started broadcasting from Uganda into Rwanda on its own radio station, called Radio Muhabura in 1991. It was monitored by the BBC starting in 1992, and was mostly a propaganda instrument for the RPF. It accused the Habyarimana government of genocide as early as January 1993, even before the Arusha accords. Over the next few years there were numerous attempts at ceasefires, though they achieved little and the fighting continued until 13 July 1992 when a cease-fire was signed in Arusha. Over the course of the following months negotiations continued, though without any serious breakthroughs and with the tension on both sides mounting. Finally, following reports of massacres of Tutsis, the RPF launched a major offensive on 8 February 1993.

This offensive forced the government forces back in disarray, allowing the RPF to quickly capture the town of Ruhengeri, and then to turn south and begin advancing on the capital. This caused panic in Paris (a long term supporter of the Habyarimana regime) which immediately sent several hundred French troops to the country along with large amounts of ammunition for the FAR artillery. The arrival of these French troops in Kigali seriously changed the military situation on the ground. Implicit in their support for the government and their rapid deployment was the threat that, should the RPF advance on the capital, then they may find themselves fighting French paratroopers as well as Rwandan government soldiers. On 20 February, with the RPF only 30 km north of Kigali, the rebels declared a unilateral ceasefire and over the following months pulled their forces back. By that time, over 1.5 million civilians, mostly Hutu, had left their homes, fleeing the mass murders conducted by the RPF troops towards the Hutu population.

An uneasy peace was once again entered into, which would last until 7 April of the following year. Over the following months the peace process developed. One of the stipulations of the agreement was that the RPF would station a number of diplomates in Kigali at the CND parliament building. These men were to be protected by between 600-1000 RPF soldiers.

The Tutsi diaspora miscalculated the reaction of its invasion of Rwanda. Though the Tutsi objective seemed to be to pressure the Rwandan government into making concessions which would strip Tutsis of their largely 'second class' status, the invasion was seen as an attempt to bring the Tutsi ethnic group back into power. The effect was to increase ethnic tensions to a level higher than they had ever been. Hutus rallied around the President. Habyarimana himself reacted by instituting genocidal programs, which would be directed against all Tutsis and against any Hutus seen as in league with Tutsi interests. Habyarimana justified these acts by proclaiming it was the intent of the Tutsis to restore a kind of Tutsi feudal system and to thus enslave the Hutu race.


Arusha accords Edit

The war dragged on for almost two and 1/2 years until a cease-fire accord was signed July 12, 1992, in Arusha, Tanzania, fixing a timetable for an end to the fighting and political talks, leading to a peace accord and powersharing, and authorizing a neutral military observer group under the auspices of the Organization for African Unity. A cease-fire took effect July 31, 1992, and political talks began September 3, 1992.

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