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Last Updated: 04/19/2004Three tales of Rwandan Genocide
Collected by Ferdinand Katendeko
Ferdinand Katendeko writes:
“Whenever the month of April approaches, I recall what happened in my neighbouring country, Rwanda. What policies should governments put in place to avoid this genocide? How should the international community prepare itself to avoid such an occurrence? What role should the local community in such circumstances of brother killing a brother? What about the regional community? These are some of the questions that I would pose for every one to ponder as they read the testimonies given below.”
'Living among the dead'
In 1994 in the village of Nyarubuye, Rwanda, the Hutu majority went on a killing spree in the local church, slaughtering neighbours and friends. Flora Mukampore lost 17 members of her family and saw her neighbour doing the killing. This is her story.
We thought that no one would dare come to attack us at the church because the church is a holy place.
[When the killers arrived] our men were ready to fight, even though they didn't have any weapons, so they died standing. You would not think that they were all going to get killed because they were very many. We did not think they would get killed.
Drenched in blood
My neighbour Gitera was there. Imagine someone leaving their home, knowing the possible victim's name and their children's names.
They all killed their neighbours' wives and children.
All the people they were cutting fell on me because I was near the door. I had too much hair but it all was washed with blood.
My body had been drenched in blood and it was getting dry on me so killers thought I had been cut all over. They thought I was dead.
I lay down on one side with only one eye open. I could hear a man come toward me and I guess he saw me breathe. He hit me on my head saying: "Isn't this thing still alive?"
Immediately I heard my entire body say "whaa". Something in my head changed forever. Everything stopped.
Afterwards, when the cold wind blew. I woke up. But I did not realise that there were bodies around me. I did not remember what had happened.
I just thought they were normal people and so I slept among them like we had slept before the killers came.
Later I heard the girl say : "She is rotten. It's all over for her. Does she look human to you? "
Then I realised that all the people around me had decayed.
When they sat me up I realised there were maggots and I started removing them off myself.
Can you imagine living with the dead? At some point God helped me and made me unconscious because if I wasn't, there is a possibility that I would have committed suicide.
But, I wasn't conscious and anyway killing oneself needs energy. Can you imagine. People died on the 15 April and I lived among them until the 15 May?
Massacre at Nyarubuye church
By Fergal Keane
Nine days earlier the plane carrying Rwanda's Hutu President, Juvenal Habyirimana, had been shot down flying into the capital Kigali.
Within hours the slaughter of members of the Tutsi minority as well as moderate Hutus had begun.
Among the killers marching to the church were Gitera Rwamuhuzi and his friend Silas Ngendahimana.
The Tutsis, including Flora Mukampore, had fled to the church believing they would be safe.
The local Mayor, Sylvestre Gacumbitsi, gave orders to the police to shoot, and then the peasants moved in to kill - hacking, slashing and bludgeoning their neighbours to death. Between five and ten thousand Tutsis were killed.
When I reached the scene weeks later the rotting bodies lay twisted terribly, skulls smashed open, faces frozen in the last terrible expression of violent death. How could men do this, I asked myself.
It is a question that has haunted me for a decade. Ten years after the slaughter I met some of the killers. Most are in jail but will soon be released under the government's Gacaca programme after confessing their crimes and apologising.
Gitera Rwamuhuzi is the most confident of his group and the natural leader. He smiled and shook my hand warmly.
He is an intelligent, complex man - and a ruthless killer. Before the genocide he was a local criminal gang enforcer and is said to have killed as many as 100 people, with his gang responsible for 300 deaths.
He has confessed only to three murders. "Whoever is telling you that story is exaggerating to try to make my name look bad," he says.
Gitera describes lying on the ground at Nyarubuye while the soldiers opened fire. He saw a Tutsi man trying to escape from the church and ran over and struck him on the head, killing him.
He blames Satan, a common theme among the prisoners. Responsibility is passed out of their hands to some supernatural force. There are no guilty men, only victims of dark forces.
But he also believed he was going to be killed by the Tutsis. "We thought that if they had managed to kill the head of state how were we ordinary people going to survive?" he says.
Gitera describes killing his next door neighbours.
"They looked traumatised. They were people who had lost weight because they had not eaten for days. After killing the mother the toddler fell by her side," he says, crying. Cyasa Habimana refuses to be photographed with the others, believing he is a man of greater substance. He also reads from his diaries, believing they justify him.
The Interahamwe militia group leader says he was a tool of more powerful men. He is cunning but with no imagination, an ex-army sergeant with a reputation as a hard man and a good organiser. He was persuaded to train the Interahamwe by an army colonel.
Cyasa does not blame the devil. He says the colonel gave him a new set of tyres for his truck and threatened to kill him if he did not comply.
He says he was not at Nyarubuye but was involved in attacks elsewhere in the area in which thousands of Tutsis died.
To the survivors, Cyasa was a monster, devoid of pity. He is now under sentence of death.