Killing was systematic, almost bureaucratic, say Rwandans

November 18, 1994|By Raymond Bonner | Raymond Bonner,New York Times News Service

NYAKIZU, Rwanda -- The lush, green, rolling hills are lifeless. Square, mud-wall houses are abandoned. No one is working in the terraced fields. The only sounds are the slight rustle of leaves and an occasional bird. It is the silence of death.

Many of the former inhabitants were Tutsi, slaughtered in April. Other now-empty houses belonged to the Hutu "killers," as one current resident, herself a Hutu, described them, or to the killers' relatives. They have not dared come back.

Before the killing began, more than 50,000 people lived in this commune in southern Rwanda, on the border with Burundi. Now there are barely 4,000.

The testimony is that it was not random violence that seized this country in April -- that the killings were planned, encouraged and commanded by government officials up to the highest levels.

Listening to villagers' accounts of the massacres, one begins to gain some understanding of why so many refugees are afraid to tTC come back, and of why so many people are being picked up by soldiers and thrown in jail on suspicion of complicity in the genocide.

It was not just a few young toughs and uneducated peasants who were doing the killing. The guilty cut across the social and economic strata, and the Hutus who fled to Zaire and Burundi are afraid that if they return, they will be killed in reprisal by the new Tutsi-dominated front that now runs the country.

In this community, a mob led by the mayor, encouraged by the president, assisted by soldiers, killed between 4,000 and 5,000, the villagers said. Most of their remains are in mass graves; the dirt of the parish grounds is littered with bleached bits of human bones.

The people of Nyakizu say they first began to fear when they saw smoke from houses being burned on the hills to the north, and Tutsi from those areas started coming here for safety. Residents, Hutu and Tutsi, went to the mayor to ask what could be done to prevent killing in Nyakizu. He told them the problems in other communes were being caused by the interahamwe, the governing party's militia, and that they did not have to worry because those kinds of militants did not exist in his commune.

Then, on the evening of April 14, Mayor Lasdislas Ntaganzwa had a meeting in his office.

"The killing began the next morning," said Agate Mukabugabo, a teacher, sitting on the steps of her church where she had been baptized and where hundreds were slain.

Villagers recalled that a mob of about 200 people had approached the village from the south. Four national policemen and several local policemen, who were armed with grenades and rifles, provided security for the mob, the villagers said.

The mob was led by Mr. Ntaganzwa, who was in a truck, the villagers said. They said they had also recognized a school superintendent, the principal of the artisan's school, several teachers and some university students in the mob.

The mayor told Tutsis who had gathered for safety on the parish grounds that they had nothing to worry about, that they should even put down their staffs. The men did. The police began shooting.

The mob had axes, stones, bows and arrows, and spears. They began killing Tutsis wherever they found them -- at the parish, in theirhomes, in the fields, in schools.

"They were just like bureaucrats," Mrs. Mukabugabo said. "They started every morning at seven and quit at five."

Because she is Hutu, she was spared. But her sister, Cecile Mukaruhama, was married to a Tutsi. He was killed. So were Mrs. Mukaruhama's two sons, a 22-year-old seminary student, and a 15-year-old high school student, because children take the ethnic identity of their father. At the end of each day's killing, the slayers would return to their homes in the hills, singing as they went, carrying booty they had plundered from the victims' houses.

The villagers said several officials tried to stop the killings. The mayor handed them over to the mob and they were killed, including the deputy mayor, the commune's treasurer, and the director of an adult education program. They were Hutu.

After several days of killing, the country's acting president, Theodore Sindikubwabo, visited this commune and spoke to the people. Most people were too busy killing to come and listen to the president, Mrs. Mukabugabo recalled, but she did.

"He told us that he had come to thank us for what we had done so far and to encourage us to do more," she said. He promised to send more people to help. And the next day, soldiers of the regular army arrived, villagers recalled. They were commanded by a lieutenant, they said.

The next day, what the leaders of the mob called the "cleaning up" began. They attacked the Cyahinda parish church, where Tutsis had sought refuge.

The soldiers shot down the wooden doors in the church, a long brick edifice built in 1945. Then the mob swarmed in, hacking and clubbing people to death. They came back the next day and finished the job.

When the killing subsided, the odor of death hung over the area, and the mayor ordered men to start burying the corpses; many of the men who did the burying had done the killing.

Small children, who were wounded but still alive, were tossed into mass graves, along with their mothers, the villagers said.

One teen-age girl who had been thrown into a hole along with several other children lived for several days. Other children could hear her crying and passed water to her. Then the mayor ordered that the hole be covered, the villagers said.

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