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Bush visits Rwanda memorial, talks of present-day Darfur

KIGALI, Rwanda – He looked shaken, as anyone would visiting a genocide memorial with a picture of a 12-year-old girl and a plaque with her vital information.

Favourite sport: Swimming.

Favourite food: Eggs and chips.

Cause of death: Hacked by machete.

For President Bush, a visit to the Kigali Memorial Center evokes not just stomach-churning visions of what happened here 14 years ago but haunting questions about what is happening even now on another part of the African continent. A president who once scribbled “not on my watch” in the margins of a report on Rwanda finds himself still unable to stop what he has termed genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan.

“This is a moving place that can’t help but shake your emotions to your very foundation,” Bush said after touring the museum to the 1994 genocide, built on grounds that include mass graves with more than 250,000 bodies. “It reminds me that we must not let these kind of actions take place.”

But unlike Bill Clinton, who came here in 1998 to admit he should have done more to stop the Rwanda genocide, Bush said he feels no guilt and harbors no regret over Darfur – except regret that others have not done what he has pressed them to do. He opted not to send U.S. troops unilaterally into Sudan after being advised that it could inflame the situation more than it would help and instead has tried to help assemble an international peacekeeping force that has yet to fully deploy.

“I still believe it was the right decision,” he said, “but having done that, if you’re a problem-solver, you put yourself at the mercy of decisions of others – in this case, the United Nations. And I’m well known to have spoken out (about) the slowness of the United Nations. It seems very bureaucratic to me, particularly with people suffering.”

He came back to the question of personal regret. “I’m comfortable with the decision I made,” he said. “I’m not comfortable with how quickly the response has been.”

Darfur has always been a crucible of American power under Bush, testing the obligations and limitations of the world’s last superpower to dictate events in faraway lands. For Bush, it has been a singular frustration, one he rails about in private with aides even as he has settled for a multilateral effort that sputters inconclusively.

Bush was quick to call the killing in Darfur genocide, a term others still resist, and he organized a massive humanitarian response, imposed sanctions against Sudanese officials and promoted a plan for a 26,000-strong U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force. He announced Tuesday that the United States would spend another $100 million to train African peacekeepers for Darfur, including $12 million for 2,400 more Rwandan troops.

“President Bush did more than any other world leader to try to stop the deaths in Darfur,” said Andrew Natsios, who was the president’s envoy to Sudan until December. “He called it what it was when it was happening and then with other countries organized the African Union force.” The humanitarian aid effort, he added, “saved hundreds of thousands of lives.”

Yet activists say it has not been enough. “There is a lot about Darfur that all of us, the president included, should regret now,” said Jerry Fowler, president of the Save Darfur Coalition. “Hopefully, the president shares our regret that there isn’t a lasting peace and security in Darfur and that the Darfuri people continue to face violence and suffering.”

So far, just 9,000 peacekeepers are on the ground and major military powers have yet to come up with needed helicopters. China has blocked sanctions at the U.N. Security Council. And Sudan continues to defy the international community as militias renew violence and burn down villages. “How can anyone have a clear conscience about what’s happening in Darfur?” Fowler asked.

Many asked similar questions in April 1994 when this lush, green country known as the land of a thousand hills descended into a frenzy of death. The assassination of President Juvenal Habyarimana, an ethnic Hutu, touched off a wave of violence against minority Tutsis and sympathetic Hutus. An estimated 800,000 people were killed over 100 days. With bodies still being found today, some put the toll as high as 1 million.

The president and first lady remained grimly silent as they made their way through the museum Tuesday, guided by its manager, Freddy Mutanguha, whose parents and four sisters were killed.

“The U.N. knew about what was going on in our country,” he told the president.

“Powerful, powerful,” Bush told him at the end of the tour.

Bush said he would share with his successor a lesson he has drawn from the crisis – that the United States cannot stop genocide alone. “I would urge the president to treat . … the leaders in Africa as partners,” he said. “In other words, don’t come to the continent feeling guilty about anything. Come to the continent feeling confident that with some help, people can solve their problems.”