Rwanda has been beset by ethnic tension originating from the traditionally unequal relationship between the dominant Tutsi minority and the majority Hutus. In 1959, three years before independence from Belgium, the Hutus overthrew the ruling Tutsi king and the ethnic relationship was reversed. Over the next several years, thousands of Tutsis were killed, and some 150,000 driven into exile in neighboring countries, notably Uganda and Burundi. Tutsis remaining in Rwanda were stripped of much of their wealth and status under the regime of Juvénal Habyarimana, who came to power in 1973. An estimated one million Tutsis fled the country. After 1986, Tutsis in Uganda formed the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which aimed to invade Rwanda and overthrow the Habyarimana regime.
The civil war began with the RPF invasion in 1990. By 1992, there had been several large-scale massacres, and political assassinations were commonplace. International investigations concluded that responsibility lay in the president’s office. But in mid-1993, Habyarimana finally accepted an internationally-mediated peace treaty which granted the RPF a share of political power and a military presence in the capital, Kigali. The peace agreement was not accepted by the Hutu extremists in Habyarimana’s government.
The mysterious shooting down of the plane carrying Habyarimana near the capital Kigali – suspected by Hutus to be the work of Tutsi rebels – triggered what appeared to be a coordinated attempt by Hutus to eliminate the Tutsi population in April 1994.
In response, RPF launched a military campaign to control the country. Hutu regime was defeated in July, by which time approximately 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus had been brutally massacred.
Around two million Hutus, including some of those responsible for the massacres, fled to then Zaire (the Democratic Republic of Congo). There they joined with some Zairean forces to attack local Tutsis. Rwanda responded by invading refugee camps dominated by Hutu militiamen.
Rwanda’s intervention in the civil war in Democratic Republic of Congo continued until the peace deal in late 2002.