10/11/2005

Kevin Sites in the Hot Zone - The School of Death where 50,000 people were murdered in one day

Posted by Kevin Sites
on Tue Oct 11, 4:53 PM ET
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Video Audio Photo Essays

The school was a trap. When it was finally sprung, 50,000 people were murdered in one day. Killing like that is not out of anger or passion -- it's efficient, systematic. It is killing on a scale of 2,000 people every hour.

Note -- this dispatch contains graphic video and photographs that some readers may find disturbing.

This is how it happened: On April 6, 1994, Rwandan President Juvnal Habyarimana, an ethnic Hutu, dies in a plane crash. The death of Habyarimana unleashes a killing spree that is as calculated as it is savage.

Hatred between the majority Hutus and minority Tutsis in Rwanda has existed for generations. The killings are an attempt by Hutus to end their rivalry with the Tutsis once and for all. When it is over, more than 800,000 Tutsis and their sympathizers are dead.

Hutu Interahamwe militias begin their rampage within days of the plane crash. The Tutsi population is panicked. In Gikongoro Province, Hutu officials use bullhorns to encourage the Tutsis to gather at the Murambi School -- still under contruction -- telling them they will be protected there. They pack every building and the surrounding grounds.

They have no food and, eventually, even the water is shut off. Some of the sick and elderly as well as children die from dehydration.

Then, on the night of April 20, at 3 a.m., the Interahamwe descend on the school. They are armed with guns, machetes, grenades and lances. They attack the weakened Tutsis, beginning a slaughter that will last from the early morning throughout the next day.

Those who attempt to flee are hunted down and killed with the help of the local population. Later the district roads department uses its bulldozers to dig mass graves to bury the evidence.

The story of Murambi School is just one incident in the genocide that still reverberates throughout eastern Africa and the world.

Today these 15 brick buildings, set in a beautiful green valley of western Rwanda, have been turned into a memorial. They hold a terrible testimony of death.

Francois Rusanganwa, the memorial's guide, unlocks the doors one by one. I peer into the first, and I am stunned by what I see: a sprawl of lime-coated bodies on wooden pallets.

They are frozen in the positions in which they were killed. Some with arms outstretched, as if trying to stop the blow of a machete. Others with large holes in their skulls from blunt trauma. Some have tufts of hair, others broken bones. Without words, each tells the story of his demise. It is both difficult to watch and impossible to forget.

In the next room are the children. Someone has left an artificial rose on the body of one child. The infant is nearly flat and knew nothing of the politics that led to its death. One tiny hand reaches out, fingers outspread, almost seeming to ask why.

"The bodies were excavated from the mass graves in 1995," Francois tells me. "We reburied about 45,000 but these we will conserve. They will stay here to tell the story of the genocide."

I ask Francois if he's gotten used to seeing this every day.

"No," he tells me. "Every day it's difficult because my mother, four sisters and five brothers were all killed here. I survived because I was away working in Burundi at the time."

He says he doesn't know which bodies belong to his family members but he feels their presence here every day.

Note: After the massacre, a Tutsi rebel group called the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), supported by Uganda, overran the then Hutu-dominated government and took the capital of Kigali. Members of the Interahamwe militia fled into eastern Congo.
The Interahamwe continued raids into Rwanda until the Tutsi RPF also began crossing the border to attack them. The conflict escalated to the point where a half-dozen African nations were involved in fighting in the Congo. There were reports that Tutsi reprisals against Hutus in the Congo also resulted in widespread killings. A recent discovery of mass graves in eastern Congo is being investigated by the United Nations.




Kevin Sites in the Hot Zone From Yahoo! News

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