SURVIVORS OF the 1994 genocide in Rwanda gathered on a hillside in the capital yesterday to bury the remains of hundreds of victims recovered from pit-latrines and mass graves.
The symbolic burial marked the 10th anniversary of the slaughter by extremists from the Hutu majority of 800,000 Tutsis and Hutu moderates. Remains held in 20 communal coffins were lowered into tombs by families and genocide survivors, who wanted to give their loved ones a ritual burial years after they were killed by their neighbours under the orders of the extremist Hutu government.
President Paul Kagame, whose rebel force ended the genocide by ousting the extremist government, laid a wreath on the 20th coffin as it was lowered into the grave. He then lit a flame that will burn for 100 days at the central courtyard of the new Kigali National Memorial Centre. A museum on the site will display pictures of the 300,000 children who are estimated to have been killed.
"God forbid, but if a similar situation was to occur anywhere else ... when that duty calls to protect people who are caught up in a genocide, please enlist us. We will be available to come and fight to protect those who will be targeted," Mr Kagame said.
The President again accused the French government of complicity in the genocide. "They knowingly trained and armed government soldiers and militia who were going to commit genocide, and they knew they were going to commit genocide," he said. "They designed a strategy to protect the killers and not protect the victims." French officials have denied the allegations and say French troops helped stop the genocide.
Mr Kagame later addressed 65,000 Rwandans at the Amahoro Stadium in Kigali. Cynthia and Sonia Dushime, 11-year-old twins whose family was killed during the genocide, handed a torch to Mr Kagame for the ceremony. "Today is a special day because we get to remember our dead in a special way and bury them," Cynthia said. "We miss our mama and papa, we never got to know them."
In Geneva, the United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, called on the international community to stay alert for warning signs to prevent a repeat of massacres such as that in Rwanda. "We must all acknowledge our responsibility for not having done more to prevent or stop the genocide," Mr Annan told the UN Human Rights Commission. "We cannot afford to wait until the worst has happened, or is already …