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IN THE NEWS - Tenth Anniversary of the Ethnic Killings in Rwanda - 2004-04-09

Broadcast: April 10, 2004

This is Steve Ember with In the News in VOA Special English.

Wednesday was the tenth anniversary of the start of widespread ethnic killings in Rwanda. Thousands of people attended a national burial ceremony in the capital, Kigali. They gathered there to honor the victims and to show support for the central African nation.

The leaders of South Africa, Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia attended the ceremony. Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt was the only Western leader to attend. Rwanda criticized Western countries for not sending high-level officials.

During the ceremony, Rwandan President Paul Kagame led Rwandans in observing three minutes of silence for the victims. Earlier, he lit a flame at the new Kigali National Memorial Center.

The killings in Rwanda began on April seventh, nineteen-ninety-four, after a plane carrying the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi was shot down over Kigali. Both leaders died in the crash. Rwanda’s President Juvenal Habyarimana was an ethnic Hutu.

Following the crash, extremists in the Hutu government began a plan to kill all of the country’s minority Tutsi population and politically moderate Hutus. An estimated eight-hundred-thousand Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in three months of violence.

The killings ended when Mister Kagame’s Tutsi-led rebel army ousted the extremist Hutu government and seized control of the capital. More than two-million Hutus later fled to nearby Democratic Republic of Congo.In a speech during the ceremony in Kigali, President Kagame said Rwanda takes the most blame for the mass killings. But he criticized the international community for failing to intervene to stop the killings. He also repeated accusations that French officials helped train and arm the Hutu government soldiers and militants who carried out the killings.

France has denied the accusations. It later withdrew its deputy foreign minister from the ceremony in Kigali.

Rwanda is one of the world’s poorest countries. Many Rwandans are still suffering as a result of the violence ten years ago. Many women were infected with the disease AIDS during widespread sexual attacks. And thousands of children lost their parents in the mass killings or from AIDS.

Human rights officials say the situation in Rwanda now is calm and the government has control in the country. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda is trying some of those accused of planning and carrying out the killings. But tensions continue between the Hutus and Tutsis. And human rights groups say there are still very serious problems with the justice system because of the failure of Rwandan courts.

Former President Bill Clinton and United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan have apologized for failing to intervene in Rwanda. During a ceremony in Geneva, Switzerland this week, Mister Annan proposed a five-point action plan designed to prevent future ethnic killings.

In the News, in VOA Special English, was written by Cynthia Kirk. This is Steve Ember.