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"Hotel Rwanda" hero fears new Hutu-Tutsi killings

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - The Rwandan hotel manager who inspired a Hollywood drama for heroically protecting 1,200 refugees fleeing the 1994 massacres in his country says he fears Rwanda could be headed for another round of ethnic bloodletting.

Paul Rusesabagina, whose story was depicted in the 2004 Oscar-nominated “Hotel Rwanda”, accused Kigali of laying the foundation for another genocide by punishing killers from “only one side” of the country’s deadly ethnic conflict.

“Actually we are not very far from another genocide,” Rusesabagina, a critic of the Rwandan government, told Reuters in an interview on Thursday in Cape Town.

Some 800,000 minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus were butchered in 100 days of killings from April 6, 1994. Soldiers of the then Hutu-led government and their ethnic militia allies have been accused of orchestrating the carnage.

The killings ended only after Tutsi rebels led by current President Paul Kagame seized control of the country and triggered an exodus of more than 2 million Hutus.

“Since 1994, Tutsis have been killing Hutus, and even now there are many who are being killed, or who simply disappear,” he said. “Everything has been taken over by the Tutsi. The Hutu who are 85 percent of the population are intimidated.”

In Kigali, Rwandan Foreign Minister Charles Murigande poured scorn on Rusesabagina’s comments.

“He’s just out of touch with the reality of Rwanda. A firm foundation has been built and only daydreamers like Rusesabagina can think about bloodletting atrocities again,” Murigande told Reuters. “He is a mere propagandist out of touch with reality.”

Rusesabagina, 51, and his family have lived in Belgium since 1996 with two brief trips home in that time.

SLOW WHEELS OF JUSTICE

An international court based in Arusha, Tanzania, has been trying alleged masterminds of the genocide, but Rusesabagina said justice for some 100,000 people, mostly Hutu, arrested since 1994, has been “slow and biased”.

“The government made a mistake by taking all Hutus as criminals,” said Rusesabagina, whose father was Hutu and his mother Tutsi. His wife, Tatiana, is Tutsi.

He said the government’s answer to criticism of its slow justice system was to turn over genocide trials to traditional “Gacaca” courts which historically dealt with matters like stock theft. Members of these courts were mostly illiterate and lacked the competence to deal with weighty matters like genocide.

“As long as justice is not done there will be no reconciliation,” Rusesabagina said. “The justice in place is biased. They are focusing on cases of Hutus who killed Tutsis but not Tutsis who killed Hutus,” he said.

“Given such a situation, what do you expect if the other side should get an opportunity to revenge,” Rusesabagina said.

He said a process like South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission that helped heal the trauma of apartheid rule was what Rwandans really needed.

Rusesabagina was directly responsible for saving the lives of more than 1,200 Tutsis and Hutu moderates by sheltering them in the hotel and bribing the Hutu military to spare them.

Kagame, his wife and most of his cabinet watched the Kigali premiere of “Hotel Rwanda” in February 2004, but has since dismissed the movie as an attempt to re-write Rwanda’s history.

Last year he described its portrayal of Rusesabagina, played by Don Cheadle, as false.

“It has nothing to do with Rusesabagina,” Kagame told reporters during a visit to Washington. “He just happened to be there accidentally, and he happened to be surviving because he was not in the category of those being hunted.”

Rusesabagina said Kagame has increasingly seen him as an enemy since he filed a highly critical complaint to the International Criminal Court in Arusha in 2005.

Additional reporting by Arthur Asiimwe in Kigali

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