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Rebuilding Rwanda

THE genocide of an estimated 1 million people in Rwanda last spring has passed, but the country still desperately needs help.

For several weeks, Hutu extremists, in an effort to undermine the new Tutsi-dominated government, the Rwanda Patriotic Front, have been terrorizing refugee camps in Rwanda and nearby Zaire. Their goal: to keep people from returning home.

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In a recent sweep of two refugee camps in southwestern Rwanda, United Nations peacekeeping forces detained 43 people and seized more than 1,000 ``warlike'' weapons.

A high-ranking Rwandan official has asked the UN and other aid organizations to cut off supplies to militant Hutus in the camps. The government, meanwhile, is pressing for an international tribunal to try members of the country's former security forces and extremist Hutu militias accused of participating in the massacres.

These steps are important - as far as they go. But as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has noted, they don't address the fundamental problems in Rwanda. The ICRC said if the major powers don't put together a peace plan for the region, the ethnic slaughter could resume and spread to neighboring countries. To many, the Rwanda crisis seems like a long-ago occurrence; the ICRC is right to sound a warning bell.

During a recent visit to Rwanda, United States security adviser Anthony Lake said boosting the country economically should be a first priority. The first step in that process would be paying off Rwanda's $2.5 million debt to the World Bank. That, in turn, would free up $50 million in development assistance, as well as aid from other developed countries.

Washington has promised to help pay off Rwanda's debt as soon as it implements certain conditions, including stationing human rights monitors throughout the country and giving UN troops free access to all parts of Rwanda. The conditions are certainly reasonable and are in Rwanda's best interest.

But for there to be significant progress in the rebuilding process, the repatriation of mainly Hutu refugees scattered in neighboring countries is essential.

To this end, the UN has wisely reversed its policy and announced it will assist Rwandan refugees wishing to return home. As Mr. Lake commented, their return would aid efforts toward national reconciliation - which, after all, should be Rwanda's ultimate goal.

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