- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 4, 2002

BISESERO, Rwanda Emmanuel Ntawizerundi's eyes dart nervously as he tries to explain how he survived the 1994 genocide.

"I was hiding and running," he said, motioning to the gray-misted hills.

"Of course he was running. He was running after somebody," retorts a man from a group eavesdropping nearby.

Mr. Ntawizerundi is a Hutu, the heckler a Tutsi, and the incident a microcosm of the distrust and scores still unsettled eight years after the 100-day slaughter that left hundreds of thousands of Rwandans dead, mainly ethnic Tutsis massacred by Hutus.

The U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda is supposed to bring justice, but is too slow and geographically remote for many rural Rwandans.

[Yesterday in neighboring Tanzania, the U.N. tribunal adjourned until September the trial of the military officer accused of masterminding the genocide and three co-defendants, the AP reports from Arusha, where the tribunal does its work.

[The accused mastermind, Col. Theoneste Bagosora, and Lt. Col. Anatole Nsengiyumva, Maj. Aloys Ntabakuze and Brig. Gen. Gratien Kabiligi refused to leave their jail cells to attend the trial's opening this week, saying their rights had been violated by the court's failure to supply them with French translations of the prosecution's pretrial brief and the report of the first witness. Trial documents are supposed to be translated into English, French and Kinyarwandan.

[Defense attorneys accused the prosecution of not being ready for the trial. Judge Lloyd Williams allowed U.N. prosecutor Carla Del Ponte to make her opening statement Tuesday, but after a closed-door conference yesterday, he adjourned the trial for five months. All four defendants entered pleas of "not guilty."]

To speed up trials of those among the 120,000 genocide detainees charged with minor roles, the Rwandan government has begun training judges chosen by local communities for a traditional justice system known as "gacaca."

Officials hope gacaca will begin in May. Those who confess to their crimes will face sentences ranging from community service to 25 years in prison, while those who don't confess, but are found guilty, could face life imprisonment

Until then, like the unfinished red-brick memorial to the 50,000 killed in and around Bisesero in western Rwanda, reconciliation will be incomplete.

It is only superficial, and there is no trust, said Jack Ntirushwa, a Tutsi whose entire family was killed in Bisesero. "Gacaca will help everybody will know exactly what happened it will hurt, but we have no alternative."

He struggles for words, speaking in phrases that often peter out, leaving pain etched on his 24-year-old face.

He says he knows who the killers are. "You want their names? maybe you were talking to one of them in the evening, and in the morning he did what he wanted ."

This is a big part of the pain that after the genocide, villagers had no choice but to return to their homes and live alongside those who may have been involved in the slaughter, said Antoine Mugesera, president of an organization of genocide survivors called Ibuka.

Rwanda is about the size of New Hampshire, but five times as densely populated. The killings, planned well in advance, were triggered by the shooting down of the plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, to Kigali on April 6, 1994.

Hutu villagers, spurred on by extremist Hutu government officials and hate propaganda, were incited and abetted by special militia and the army to butcher their Tutsi neighbors with ordinary farm tools like machetes and hoes.

The genocide ended when Tutsi rebels captured Kigali, the capital, in July 1994 and formed a government of national unity.

Skulls and bones piled at the massacre sites are reminders of the horror, and rivers flowing through tranquil fields of corn and beans once carried bloated corpses.

In Bisesero, hundreds of skulls are stacked neatly on wooden tables inside a corrugated iron shed.

Sitting on the wall leading to the memorial, men begin by saying that reconciliation is working well in their area.

But they are the ones who heckled Mr. Ntawizerundi.

"For now, I do not know if my neighbor was involved in the genocide or not. I do not know whom to trust," said Mr. Mugesera, a Tutsi.

"My father was killed, but no person in the village has ever told me who killed him or where he is buried. I even requested that they write it on a piece of paper and drop it somewhere so I could find it, but no one has ever done that."

Ninety percent of Rwanda's 8 million people are peasant farmers who share the same language and culture.

But the memories of genocide divide them. "What is in the heart remains in the heart because of the hurt," said Donniel Bisumbukuboko.

His seven children and five brothers and sisters were among the 20,000 people killed in Nyamata, a town 18 miles south of Kigali.

Hutus told Mr. Bisumbukuboko who slaughtered his relatives his neighbors, the 68-year-old Tutsi said, tears welling behind his thick eyeglasses.

"If I have bad thoughts [about those neighbors], I can't do anything about it; but what I do is forgive them," he said.

"We just live like that," said his friend, Gregory Hitimana, a Tutsi who lost two sisters, their four children and his younger brother. "What can we do to them? Nothing. Just forgive and forget."

It is not easy for Hutus, either.

Often, to avoid being asked too many questions, they refuse to acknowledge they are Hutus. Some say innocent relatives and friends have been labeled "genocidaires" perpetrators of genocide simply to settle a personal grudge.

"The words Tutsi and Hutu are still among us it's sheer madness," said a woman who wanted only to be identified as Mama Anita.

She said she lost people in the genocide, but didn't remember how many, and she avoided saying whether she was a Hutu. But she did say that life was better when the Hutus were running the country.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide