KIGALI: Rwanda yesterday held solemn commemorations marking the 20th anniversary of the genocide, with many survivors overcome with grief as they relived the trauma of the massacres that left nearly a million dead.
The events also bore reminders of festering anger, as a major diplomatic row broke out over renewed allegations of French complicity in the genocide.
In a speech at the national stadium, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon admitted the international community was still wracked by the “shame” of having failed to act in Rwanda and making the same mistake a year later during the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia.
“Many United Nations personnel and others showed remarkable bravery. But we could have done much more. We should have done much more. In Rwanda, troops were withdrawn when they were most needed,” Ban said.
“The shame still clings, a generation after the events.”
The well-planned and viciously executed genocide began late on April 6, 1994, shortly after Hutu president Juvenal Habyarimana was killed when his plane was shot down over Kigali. Roadblocks were set up, with Tutsi men, women and children of all ages butchered with machetes, guns and grenades.
At least 800,000 people, mostly Tutsis and some moderate Hutus, died in the killings.
Official mourning began three months ago with a flame of remembrance touring towns and villages across the small central African nation, and culminated yesterday when the torch arrived at the national genocide memorial — where the remains of a quarter of a million people are stored in vast concrete tombs.
Kagame lit a flame that will burn for 100 days, the length of time it took government soldiers and “Hutu power” militiamen to carry out their plan to wipe out the “Inyenzi” — a term meaning “cockroaches” that was used by Hutu extremists to designate minority Tutsis.
Wreathes were also laid, before ceremonies in Kigali’s football stadium where the UN chief, several African heads of state and top diplomats from Europe and the United States were gathered.
At the national stadium, survivors of the genocide recounted their memories of the killings and of survival. Several people were overcome with trauma, screaming and crying uncontrollably with medical staff helping to carry them out and to provide