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World - Africa

In Rwanda, reconciliation -- and retribution -- come slowly

Roads were paved with bodies as thousands of minority Tutsis were killed during the genocide in 1994

CNN's Catherine Bond reports on the genocide in Rwanda five years ago.
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Rwanda Gallery

April 4, 1999
Web posted at: 4:09 p.m. EDT (2009 GMT)

KIGALI, Rwanda (CNN) -- As Rwandans mark the fifth anniversary of the ethnic slaughter that left nearly a million people dead, many see the case of former Ambassador Bonaventure Ubalijoro as a warning.

Ubalijoro rose from the ranks of Rwanda's intelligence ministry to its diplomatic corps, eventually becoming the country's envoy to the United States.

When the 1994 genocide erupted, turning Rwanda's Hutu population on its Tutsi minority, Ubalijoro -- a Hutu -- did not participate. Moderate Hutus like Ubalijoro became targets as well. While Ubalijoro visited his wife in a hospital, Hutu extremists ransacked his home and killed his mother.

"The house was dirty, everything was broken, even those lamps were cut," said his wife, Madeleine Ubalijoro. Nothing was left in the house ... chairs here were taken, stolen."

"Here, all the Tutsis here, our neighbors, they are still there," Mrs. Ubalijoro said. "No one was killed. (The government) sent people here to ask our neighbors if my husband has killed. They said 'no.'"

But five years later, Ubalijoro is awaiting trial in a Kigali jail for the killings of other Tutsis -- killings that took place more than three decades ago, when he served in the state intelligence agency.

A precarious reconciliation

The massacre left many orphaned children without food and shelter  

Critics say cases like Ubalijoro's could hurt Rwanda's precarious reconciliation. They argue that his prosecution could discourage Hutus from voicing their opinions in the political arena, driving them toward the extremist views that led to the genocide five years ago.

The massacres began April 6, 1994, after the assassination of Rwandan leader Juvenal Habyarimana. Within hours, despite the country's long history of ethnic coexistence, the Hutu generals who replaced him launched a campaign of extermination against the Tutsi.

For three brutal months, Hutu soldiers, civilians and militia turned on their neighbors and colleagues, mostly with machetes. The killing ended when Tutsi-led rebels of the Rwandan Patriotic Front won power July 4, 1994.

Without decisive international intervention to stop the genocide, between 800,000 and a million people died. With the anniversary approaching, Rwandans are reflecting on those days of horror.

Flags flew at half-staff Thursday and Friday, the beginning of a week of remembrances. The week of observances will culminate in the mass reburial of 20,000 victims of the genocide. They were slain by a mob after being offered shelter in a church compound in Kibeho, 100 kilometers (60 miles) south of Kigali.

Hundreds of thousands await justice

Many of the survivors are still seeking justice. More than 125,000 suspects remain jailed on suspicion of participating in the massacres, but only 350 have been tried. Of those, 120 have been sentenced to death; 22 of those sentences have been carried out.

A report by two Western human rights groups this week concluded that the United States, France and Belgium could have done more to prevent the bloodshed.

"Who the hell cared about Rwanda?" Canadian Gen. Romeo Dallaire, the commander of a U.N. peacekeeping mission in Rwanda, asked bitterly in a 1997 interview.

Some Tutsis who survived the genocide demand apologies from former neighbors, while others want to put the events behind them and focus on rebuilding society.

The memories of the killings have divided Hutus as well. Mrs. Ubalijoro said her husband's sudden detention isn't really about what he did or didn't do but about internal rivalries in the MDR, the Hutu political party Ubalijoro led until late last year.

The party has expelled some members linked to the genocide, but others have faced no action against them.

"They have to come up with better reasons for excluding me," said Jacques Maniraguha, an MDR member expelled from the country's parliament. "There are parliamentarians suspected of involvement in genocide in my party and parliamentarians who haven't said a word in the past four years."

Nairobi Bureau Chief Catherine Bond contributed to this report.

Report: Rwandan genocide could have been prevented
March 31, 1999

The minister and the Tutsi massacre

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