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|Rwandans Mark 1994 Genocide|
Annan: Lessons to be learned from Rwanda
By RODRIQUE NGOWI
KIGALI, Rwanda, April 07, 2004 (CP) – Marking the 10-year anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, President Paul Kagame lashed out at the international community Wednesday for failing to stop the slaughter, and pledged that if another genocide should happen, Rwanda would be the first to send troops to stop it.
While he acknowledged that the Rwandan people were ultimately responsible for the massacres that claimed more than 500,000 lives in 100 days in 1994, he said world powers refused to do anything to stop the killing, which eventually ended when his rebel forces seized control of the country.
He said Rwanda would never stand by and allow widespread slaughter to take place unchecked.
"God forbid, but if a similar situation was to occur anywhere else . . . we will be available to come and fight to protect those who will be targeted," Kagame told a crowd of thousands at a stadium in Kigali.
Rwanda will act because "the last 10 years have shaped us differently and have given us the spirit to be able to stand up and fight . . . in defence of others who are targeted in a genocide," Kagame said.
The central African country fell quiet at noon Wednesday as the country observed three minutes of silence in tribute to those hacked to death by their neighbours or shot by the army and Hutu militias following orders of the extremist Hutu government then in power.
As the ceremony continued, people in the stands broke into tears. Others started screaming hysterically and had to be carried off into white tents set up by the Red Cross. Members of the national choir wept as they sang.
Philip Maher of World Vision Canada, based in Mississauga, Ont., who was at the stadium Wednesday, said he was profoundly moved by the grief of so many people.
"As the singing got underway . . . you could hear people starting to cry. And then they started to wail, and then it kind of spread . . . all over the stadium, spontaneously, people just started to break down. I've never seen anything like it."
A woman seated nearby cradled in her arms a small photo album. As she opened it, Maher said he could see, through a heart cut out of the cover, "little passport pictures of about probably eight people. Little black-and-white, yellowed pictures, curled in the corners, all kind of haphazardly glued on the front page of this photo album, and she just sat there . . . she just cried. It was just very moving."
When the 100-day slaughter began, the UN had 2,519 peacekeepers in Rwanda. The most heavily armed UN contingent was a 450-member Belgian battalion, but Brussels withdrew days after Hutus killed 10 Belgian soldiers on April 7, 1994.
Other UN troops were busy "tanning at the pool" in neighbouring Uganda and monitoring its border to ensure that weapons did not reach Kagame's rebels, who were fighting to end the slaughter, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said during the ceremony. UN troops at the time had been withdrawn from Rwanda and were staying at hotels in Uganda.
On April 21, as the killing raged, the UN Security Council passed a resolution to reduce the UN force in Rwanda to a token 270 troops. On May 16, the Security Council passed another resolution to send some 5,500 troops, but they didn't begin to arrive until after the genocide had ended.
Among those attending the stadium ceremony was Romeo Dallaire, the retired Canadian general who warned about the potential for violence when he was commander of UN Assistance Mission in Rwanda.
"We must correct the mistakes we made in our history," Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt told the crowd in Kinyarwanda, the national language.
South African President Thabo Mbeki criticized the United Nations for abandoning Rwanda "as Africans were exterminated like pernicious vermin."
But Kagame was the most critical of the international community.
"All these powerful nations regarded one million lives as valueless, as another statistic and could be dispensed with," Kagame said, referring to all of the people killed in Rwanda between 1990 and the end of the genocide in 1994.
Earlier, genocide survivors gathered on a hillside to bury the remains of hundreds of victims recovered from pit-latrines and mass graves, marking the beginning of a week of mourning.
Kagame then lit a flame that will burn for 100 days at the new Kigali National Memorial Centre.
In Geneva, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan called on the international community to stay alert to prevent massacres like that in Rwanda.
"We cannot afford to wait until the worst has happened, or is already happening, or end up with little more than futile hand-wringing or callous indifference," Annan told the UN Human Rights Commission.
In New York, UN Undersecretary General Catherine Bertini rang the Japanese peace bell in front of the United Nations headquarters, and about 500 UN staffers observed a minute of silence. Similar ceremonies were held in cities worldwide; in Rome, the lights at the Colosseum turned from white to gold Wednesday night in remembrance of the genocide victims.
At the International Criminal Court headquarters in The Hague, Netherlands, Canadian Philippe Kirsch, ICC president, lit a candle. He said worldwide outrage over the genocide was partly responsible for the creation of the court two years ago.
Gov. Gen. Adrienne Clarkson said in a statement Wednesday that the Canadian soldiers who were part of the peacekeeping forces at the time of the genocide still bear the physical and emotional scars.
"I am proud of them, as I am proud of my fellow citizens who created self-help groups like the Association des parents et amis des victimes du genocide au Rwanda (association of relatives and friends of the victims of the Rwandan genocide) and Remembering Rwanda RR10," Clarkson said.
A Canadian delegation in Kigali was led by Jim Wall, ambassador to Rwanda.
Annan did not travel to Rwanda for the memorial ceremonies because he wanted to set out an anti-genocide plan involving the human-rights commission, UN spokeswoman Marie Heuze told The Associated Press. Other western and UN leaders were conspicuous in their absence Wednesday.
The international community's failure to stop the killing is a source of embarrassment for Annan, who was head of UN peacekeeping at the time. Both Annan and former U.S. president Bill Clinton have apologized for failing to intervene.
The genocide began hours after the mysterious downing of the plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana on April 6, 1994. But Tutsis, who now dominate the government, say the slaughter began April 7 in part because they don't want the date to coincide with the shooting down of Habyarimana's plane - an event with political meaning for radical Hutus.