- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 3, 2002

BUTARE, Rwanda For the first time since the 1994 Rwandan genocide, in which as many as 1 million people, mostly ethnic Tutsis, were massacred in 100 days of savagery, survivors in the southwestern city of Butare came face-to-face with their would-be executioners.

"This man was with the people who came to kill my children."

A weeping Rwandan woman, her voice shaking, pointed her finger at a prisoner dressed in a pink uniform who looked back, indifferently, at the crowd.

In a dramatic public ceremony on Monday, more than 2,000 prisoners who have confessed to participating in the massacres were brought before a crowd of thousands. At stake in the drama was the fate of 100 suspects whose police files were incomplete or nonexistent.

After they were presented to the survivors of the bloodletting, who were asked to give evidence, the suspects were either imprisoned to await trial or vindicated by the testimonies and released.

The ceremony, part of a 2-year-old government program to deal with more than 100,000 genocide suspects across the central African country, was the largest ever, and the first to be held in a city.

The operation, which runs parallel to a revival of the traditional village court system called "gacaca," aims to reconcile Rwandans and to resolve the incomplete dossiers of thousands of detained suspects.

In a similar event in August in the central town of Gitarama, about 130 prisoners were freed after a face-to-face confrontation of prisoners and the public.

The Butare crowd heaved with emotion during the event, in which the stoic majority let slip solemn tears while others lapsed into hysterics as the city's bloodletting was revisited in memory.

"May they rot in prison. Kill them all," a young woman screamed at the Justice Ministry officer presiding. Held back by the crowd, she tried in vain to throw a rock at the prisoners, who stood watching impassively, before she was dragged by police officers from the stadium.

Another woman burst into tears and had be to carried out, supported by her two children.

But for the most part, the crowd maintained a reserved dignity as the 100 suspects were presented, one by one, for inspection by confessed criminals and victims who escaped being killed.

The pink-clad prisoners sat passively in orderly rows under the watchful eyes of police.

Calixte Habizimana, a suspect who has spent the past six years in prison, took the stand at the microphone.

"According to his files, Calixte was seen on the militia's barricade and used his personal vehicle to scare Tutsis," the public prosecutor said. "Who knows this man, or knows what he has done?"

A few moments of silence followed, broken by the testimony of an elegant young man.

"Yes, he was sometimes at the barricades, but nobody saw him kill anyone. And he hid about 15 Tutsis in his home," the young man said.

Another witness stood to explain that Mr. Habizimana's car had been requisitioned by the militia.

After several minutes of testimony and years of prison, Mr. Habizimana was released by the Justice Ministry official.

As the next suspect approached the microphone, a murmur rippled through the crowd.

The public recognized him as someone who had killed an entire family some hacked to death and the rest burned alive in their house.

A young girl took the stand. "I saw everything, but I was too little and can't remember the faces of the killers," she said through her tears. This was not convincing enough for the prosecutor, who told her: "You must be sure of your testimony."

An independent observer watching the ceremony said, "It is a very difficult, painful exercise that throws Rwandans back into the heart of the terrible tragedy of genocide and of its extremely complex realities."

In a related development the next day in Kigali, Rwanda's capital, the government said the arrest in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) of a former Kigali governor, a key suspect in Rwanda's 1994 genocide, did not go far enough because other suspects remained at large there.

Tharcisse Renzaho was detained in Congo on Sunday and immediately turned over to the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, based at Arusha in northern Tanzania. The tribunal was set up by a 1994 Security Council resolution to try the ringleaders of the Rwandan genocide.

"The Rwandan government is pleased that Colonel Renzaho was arrested but finds the move insufficient," Joseph Mutaboba, secretary-general at the Foreign Ministry in Kigali said on national radio.

"Several other senior officers from the ex-Rwandan Armed Forces are still active in the DRC," he added.

Col. Renzaho was a senior officer in the Rwandan Armed Forces, which was responsible, with the Hutu militia known as the Interahamwe, for the 1994 genocide.

His arrest came five days after Kinshasa announced the expulsion of members of the rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda from Congolese territory.

The Kigali government objected to that decision, saying that by allowing Rwandan rebel leaders to leave Congo, Kinshasa had "simply authorized them to leave Congolese territory and remain at large."

"This decision does not satisfy the Pretoria peace accord," Mr. Mutaboba said at the time, referring to an agreement signed July 30 in South Africa by Rwandan President Paul Kagame and President Joseph Kabila of Congo.

Under that accord, Congo agreed to disarm and repatriate Rwandan Hutu rebels based there in exchange for the withdrawal by Kigali of its troops.

Hundreds of thousands of Rwandans fled to Congo during and after the genocide, including an unknown number of ex-Rwandan armed forces and Interahamwe militiamen.

On Tuesday, Mr. Mutaboba said Kigali would "be happy when all [Rwandan armed forces officers] have been arrested."

"Neither Kabila nor MONUC [the U.N. observer mission in Congo] has worked any miracles as yet," he added.

Col. Renzaho is also on a list of 15 senior genocide suspects for whose arrest the U.S. government offered a $5 million reward. Analysts say his arrest is a signal of Mr. Kabila's desire to be seen to be conforming to the demands of international justice.

In a highly publicized picture of Mr. Kabila's swearing-in ceremony on Jan. 24, 2001, Col. Renzaho is shown in a seat just behind the new Congolese president.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide