After the killing frenzy, Rwandan capital a shell

May 17, 1994|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Sun Staff Correspondent

KIGALI, Rwanda -- Government and rebel forces are still fighting each other over this capital, but it's hard to see why.

The city is a charred shell. Most of its inhabitants -- those who have survived the orgy of killing that began April 6 -- have fled. Only the bougainvillea and hibiscus thrive as if part of a gaudy funeral arrangement.

From a hillside overlooking the capital, the cannons of the rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front boom.

In the city are roadblocks, manned by ragtag youths. The stretches between checkpoints have become a sniper's alley.

Shaded downtown streets of the city, which sprawls across a cluster of hills in the center of the country, are deserted except for government and military vehicles and the occasional Red Cross truck.

Few civilians are in the streets. Modern office buildings are gutted, their windows shattered, some crumbling from rocket attacks.

At the Catholic National Pastoral Center of St. Paul, where many displaced people are sheltered, a young seminarian says no one can move around the city except in a military vehicle. The center itself depends on the Red Cross for food deliveries, he says.

The busiest area of Kigali is an impoverished section of the Nyamirambo neighborhood sprawled around an aging, green-and white-painted mosque.

There, on a crowded dirt sidewalk outside decayed one-story concrete huts, the city's commercial vacuum is filled with people selling flour, cigarettes and cooking oil from open-air tables.

An affluent residential neighborhood seems deserted except for a few blue-uniformed houseboys guarding driveway gates. But this appearance may be deceptive.

"People can't move. A lot of people are rotting in their own houses," says the resident of a new middle-class neighborhood on the other side of town.

The man won't give his name. Like so many here, he has a story to tell about the slaughter that followed the death of President Juvenal Habyarimana in a suspicious air crash April 6.

As many as 500,000 people are said to have been killed in the civil war between government troops and supporters dominated the Hutu ethnic group against the minority Tutsi.

On his street, he says, a whole Tutsi family was killed. Another family lost a father and two children, a third lost a mother, and a fourth lost a father.

He said that the neighborhood was fired on by the army in the early days of the conflict, apparently to terrorize residents.

Methodical slaughter

The accounts of refugees from Kigali confirm this brutality over and over, stories like the ones told by Nicolas Harelimana, an importer, and Marie Mushonganono, a housewife with intricately braided long hair -- both of whom fled from Rwanda to neighboring Burundi, where they were interviewed.

Mr. Harelimana, 36, lived in a residential neighborhood called Gikondo east of downtown Kigali. It was a mixed neighborhood of Hutu and Tutsi, mostly businessmen, considered a stronghold of opposition to the regime of President Habyarimana.

A day after the president was killed, the neighborhood was virtually wiped out by Rwandan presidential guard soldiers.

At 5 a.m. that day, the government radio broadcast a message from the army instructing all residents to remain indoors, he says.

At about 7 a.m., dozens of soldiers entered the neighborhood. At each house, they ordered occupants outside and shot them.

They approached Mr. Harelimana's house about 10 a.m. The family was hiding in a bathroom. Mr. Harelimana quickly moved his wife, Angele Gatashya, and two children, Yves Rukundo, 9, and Robin Muhirwa, 8, to their car and slipped away to the Milles Collines Hotel, about two miles away, where many foreigners had found refuge.

Begun to kill everybody'

From the hotel, he says he began telephoning neighbors, urging them to leave their houses. But by then, neighbors reported that the entire neighborhood had been surrounded by the military and that soldiers "had begun to kill everybody."

"For a long time, they made lists of people in the opposition who had to be killed," he says. "They killed everybody in six hours. Everything was well-organized."

Marie Mushonganono, 39, lived in Remera, near the Kigali headquarters of the United Nations peacekeeping forces. Her husband, Evariste, operated a grocery store. They have a daughter Samantha Butaeli, 9, and twin sons, Gael and Michael Butaeli, 16 months.

Soldiers from the presidential guard arrived at her neighborhood on April 8, two days after the presidents' plane crashed. Her daughter was on vacation in Kenya.

Sensing trouble, Mrs. Mushonganono's family, who are Tutsi, tried to move in with Hutu neighbors, but were told to leave because the neighbors were afraid of becoming targets.

They returned to their house, but kept the doors locked and the drapes pulled. Each time soldiers approached, the same neighbors covered up for the Mushonganono family, insisting they had left.

Neighbor refuses to help

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