Ten years ago, Verena Mukarugambwa was running for her life as Hutu extremists unleashed a 100-day killing spree that tore apart the small central African nation of Rwanda.
As the housewife fled Kigali and ran from hill to hill through Rwanda’s countryside, her husband and two younger sisters were among more than 500,000 people, hacked, shot and clubbed to death during the genocide.
On Wednesday, she will join African leaders and US and European officials in Kigali to mark the 10th anniversary of beginning of the slaughter on April 7, 1994.
For most Rwandans, the memories of the killing, the rape and the chaos are still fresh.
“It may be 10 years since the genocide began, but those of us who were here at the time shall relive the horror, the terror and the pain of the slaughter,” Mukarugambwa, a shop assistant said. “That is the day some us fled our homes and began life on the run. That is the day I shall never forget.”
Despite her pain, Mukarugambwa said the anniversary ceremony was key to ensuring the tragedy is never forgotten.
“It’s a good thing that this day will be observed by the whole country,” she said.
The killing began hours after the mysterious shooting down of the plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana, a member of the Hutu majority, on April 6, 1994.
Tutsis, who now dominate the nation’s government and army, say the slaughter began on April 7 in part because they don’t want the date to coincide with the shooting down of Habyarimana’s plane – a date with political meaning for radical Hutus.
The killing was orchestrated by the Hutu-extremist government then in power. Government troops, Hutu militia and ordinary villagers spurred on by hate messages went from village to village, butchering men, women and children.
Most of the victims where members of the Tutsi minority and politically moderate Hutus.
Many survivors still don’t know what happened to their loved ones. Others are just beginning to learn the gory details as killers confess to their deeds.
“I do not know when my family was killed, so I mark their death on April 7. Tomorrow is their anniversary,” said Irene Uwamwezi, a supermarket manager.
Uwamwezi managed to flee to neighbouring Burundi, but her husband, five children and sister were killed by Hutu neighbours and dumped in a pit latrine at the family’s house.
Uwamwezi only discovered the truth last week, when those involved showed her where her family lay.
“The day is very important because the world must see clearly that Rwanda is crying,” she said.
Rwandans are not the only ones mourning relatives killed in the slaughter.
Dozens of Belgians today gathered around a memorial set up to remember 10 Belgian peacekeepers who were killed on April 7, 1994, while they tried to protect moderate Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyamana.
“I am crying inside,” said 10-year old Pierre Lotin, the son of Lieutenant Thiery Lotin. “He was a very brave. He wanted to do a lot of good things.”
When the genocide began, there were about 2,500 UN troops in Kigali, but they were never given a mandate to intervene.
On April 21, as the killing raged, the UN Security Council passed a resolution to reduce the N force to a skeleton staff of 270 troops.
Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian general who headed the peacekeeping force, today told a genocide conference in Kigali that the international community was responsible for the massacre.
“The Rwandan genocide happened because the international community … did not give one damn for Rwandans,” Dallaire said in speech. “Never let these people forget … that the international community is criminally responsible for the genocide.”
The United Nations and former US President Bill Clinton have apologised for failing to intervene. Dallaire went into a suicidal depression because of his experiences.
The killing ended in July 1994 after Tutsi-led rebels, under current President Paul Kagame, seized Kigali.
On Wednesday, Kagame will light a flame in memory to the genocide victims and inaugurate a national memorial where the remains of 250,000 people are buried in tombs and displayed in glass cases.