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Rwandan president rejects human rights criticism

By Tom Evans, CNN
Rwandan President Paul Kagame said his country has made great strides to heal the scars from the 1994 genocide.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame said his country has made great strides to heal the scars from the 1994 genocide.
  • Human Rights Watch said opposition activists are facing harassment ahead of elections
  • Kagame dismisses the opinions that outsiders may hold about Rwanda
  • Country has made progress in erasing scars left from 1994 genocide, Kagame says
  • Kagame insists he has nothing to do with the civil war in mineral-rich Congo

(CNN) -- Rwandan President Paul Kagame hit back Monday at human rights activists who say he's behaving like an autocrat and fueling a bloody civil war in Rwanda's neighbor, Congo.

"If you are talking about people in the human rights community from outside... I have an issue with this," Kagame said, 16 years after he was hailed as a hero for ending a genocide that killed at least 800,000 people.

"You tend to make a judgment of a country, 11 million people, on what a couple of people have said and (they) don't take into account what Rwandans say."

Kagame added, "Nobody has asked the Rwandans ... it's as if they don't matter in the eyes of the human rights people. It's our own decisions in the end."

He said everyone in Rwanda has to play by the rules and be accountable. "There has to be leadership to make things move in the right direction," Kagame stated.

Kagame's comments came a month after the New York-based group, Human Rights Watch, said opposition activists are facing increasing threats, attacks, and harassment ahead of Rwanda's presidential election in August.

Human Rights Watch said opposition party members have suffered serious intimidation by individuals and institutions close to the government and Kagame's ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).

The RPF took power in 1994 after its army swept into the capital of Kigali and overthrew the Hutu-dominated government responsible for the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Rwandans, most of them members of the minority Tutsi community.

In the aftermath of the 100-day genocide, the fastest in modern history, Kagame transformed his country, turning it into one of the fastest growing nations in Africa and -- in the view of some -- a model of economic and social development.

Kagame said Rwanda has made significant progress in erasing some of the scars left behind after the tragedy.

"That's why the country is stable. That's why the country is moving on. That's why the country is developing."

Kagame insisted he has nothing to do with the continuing civil war in mineral-rich Congo, even though he acknowledged that Rwandan troops intervened there a decade ago in an attempt to stop rebel groups from returning to Rwanda.

The war became the largest and most destructive conflict in African history, costing more than 5 million lives, as various groups and foreign armies fought for control of Congo's land and mineral resources.

"I cannot be blamed for the problems of Congo or any other country," Kagame said. "There are the Congolese who have their own country, who are supposed to manage it, who are supposed to govern it. It has nothing to do with me."