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Tourist Slayings Demonstrate Hutu Rebels’ Anger and Hate

By Ann M. Simmons
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- NAIROBI, Kenya

The brutal killing of eight foreign tourists in Uganda this week was just the latest horror in a conflict rooted in ethnic hatred and the quest for land and power that in five years has given birth to a genocide in Rwanda and two wars in neighboring Congo.

The attack serves as a tragic wake-up call to a world that may have doubted the seriousness of the threat posed by Hutu rebels who have long been waging a terror campaign in the Africa’s Great Lakes region, Rwandan government officials said.

The rebels represent one of the region’s toughest obstacles to lasting peace and stability, analysts said.

“They are still a force to deal with,” said Salih Booker, director of the African studies program at the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations. “They are present in Congo, active in parts of the forests in Uganda, and they’ve demonstrated their capacity to do raids in Rwanda.”

Neighboring Burundi has also been jolted in recent months by Hutu insurgents.

Although their political objectives are unclear, the extremists appear intent on perpetuating the bloodbath they started five years ago in Rwanda’s genocide and in fostering Hutu supremacy. With machetes and guns, they have continued to push for a greater say in governance and wider inclusion for Hutus -- who are the largest ethnic group in the Great Lakes region.

“In numbers, they are the majority, but they are in the minority in terms of their political clout,” said Brian Johnson Thomas, a documentary filmmaker who has worked and traveled widely in the Great Lakes region. “This is why they feel marginalized.”

Hutu militiamen were responsible for the 1994 massacre in Rwanda of more than 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

The extremists -- among them remnants of the Rwandan army, militia groups and disaffected Hutu youths -- fled with 2 million Hutu refugees into Congo, then known as Zaire, and Tanzania.