portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article reposts global

human & civil rights

West all but ignores Rwanda anniversary

Slaughter of 800,000 in 1994 remembered in low-key ceremonies
Wednesday April 7, 2004

African leaders, diplomats, survivors and those who killed and maimed will gather in Rwanda today to remember the day 10 years ago when roadblocks sprang up around the capital, Kigali, and the genocide began.
Memorials will be unveiled and Rwanda's president, Paul Kagame, is expected to lead the country in a minute of silence and light a flame for the estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus who died during the massacres.

Leaders from South Africa, Kenya and Sudan will attend but apart from the former colonial power Belgium, which is sending the prime minister, Guy Verhofstadt, Europe and the US will be represented by a handful of ministers and relatively junior officials.

Romeo Dallaire, the then commander of the UN peacekeepers who did not act to stop the slaughter, has returned for the first time to the country which, he says, still gives him nightmares and depression.

Kigali's recent facelift left potholes filled, buildings painted, municipal gardens weeded and street children banished, but that did not stop General Dallaire's flashbacks.

"Although everything is so clean and nice I keep seeing the destruction, the dirt, the abandoned cars, the dead bodies all over the place, the smell, the bombs," he told Reuters. The retired Canadian soldier is one of the few western decision makers whom Rwandans credit with at least having tried to stop the killing. Instead of answering his call for help the UN security council cut his overwhelmed force from 2,500 troops to 450 under-trained, ill-equipped men.

"There was no interest from any of the capitals of the world to come and solve the problem, prevent it or stop it once it was in motion. We have a racist background in the white community, of saying our wars are complex, like in Yugoslavia, but black people in Africa killing each other is nothing more than tribalism," he said.

He expressed a desire to return again for a private visit to Rwanda's hills, to reflect and do some manual labour just in exchange for food.

The day after the plane of Rwanda's president, Juvénal Habyarimana, was shot down approaching Kigali on April 6 1994, Hutu extremists mobilised army and militia units to wipe out the Tutsi minority and their sympathisers. The genocide ended three months later when Tutsi rebels seized power.

Yesterday, the former US president Bill Clinton repeated previous expressions of regret that his administration did not intervene. But he stopped short of a full apology. "The death and destruction that began in April 1994 still haunts Rwandans and all of us who failed to respond," he wrote in the Washington Post. "It is important to remember the horrors of that period with clarity and honesty, both to benefit from the lessons learned and to honour the memory of those who perished."

Mr Clinton warned that some were "still spewing the epithets of hatred" but praised the central African nation's achievements in re-establishing peace and security.

Belgian officials will unveil a monument of 10 stone pillars in Kigali to honour 10 Belgian paratroopers who were captured and beaten to death by Hutu soldiers on April 7, murders which prompted Belgium to withdraw the rest of its troops as the Hutu authorities wanted.

"The soldiers were strong, solid and tough, like the pillars," said First Sergeant-Major Alain Titelbach. Each pillar will have a paratrooper's initials engraved at the base. The oldest was 32, the youngest 23.

Advocacy groups hope today's ceremonies will draw attention to rape victims who were infected with HIV and now need Aids drugs.