Capt. John Zigira has not yet traded his soldier's uniform for a suit, nor found the keys to his new office. But he already was winning over old enemies as a new district governor.
With raised arms, he shouted "Muraho," the local greeting for long-lost friends, to a pressing throng Wednesday at the Rukondo refugee camp in the mountains 55 miles south of the capital, Kigali.The crowd, mostly members of the Hutu ethnic group, cheered him. Zigira is a Tutsi.
"I have come to greet you and to talk a bit," Zigira said. "We are very happy to be with you again at the end of the war. I have come to work together with you, and to do our best to overcome our difficulties."
Zigira, 34, is governor of the district of Gikongoro, a region in southwestern Rwanda that was occupied by French soldiers in June to provide a safe haven for Hutus fleeing from the Tutsi-led rebels of the Rwandan Patriotic Front. The United Nations took over from the French on Aug. 22.
Under an agreement with the United Nations, the new Tutsi-dominated government is gradually taking over control of the southwest.
The move coincides with a report by U.N. special envoy Sharhayar Khan that members of the former Hutu government's army and militias are sneaking back into Rwanda.
Maj. Gen. Paul Kagame, who led the rebels to victory in July and now serves as vice president and defense minister, said some 450 of his soldiers could be in the southwest by this weekend to head off opposition activity.
"They have to take over," said Maj. Mark Trevillyan, commander of Britain's 23rd Parachute Regiment, which provides medical care for an estimated 570,000 displaced Rwandans in the area. "The longer it takes to rebuild (the political structure), the bigger the risk of a higher crime rate."
After watching the Front take control of northeastern Rwanda last April, Trevillyan said he was satisfied the occupation of the southwest "will be a well-disciplined, orderly transition."
"They will round up the bandits, and thugs will be dealt with appropriately," Trevillyan said. The southwest has been beset by months by banditry and looting.
More than 2 million Hutus fled Rwanda in fear of reprisals for the massacres of up to 500,000 people, mostly Tutsis, from April through July. Hutu-led militias and troops were responsible for most of the slaughter.
Zigira fought for the Tutsi rebels during the war. He is evasive about what he did and why he was chosen governor of Gikongoro.
Wearing neatly pressed fatigues and a black beret, he drove a pickup truck loaded with a dozen armed soldiers through thick clouds of dust to Rukondo camp.
His arrival was greeted by shouts of "Be strong" from residents lined up along the road that winds through the camp of terraced fields dotted with blue tents.
"We are very happy," said Andre Habialymana, a Hutu. "The shooting has stopped, and our old enemies have won the war. We must give them a chance now."