In an era of global protest, France and Israel stand out for use of dangerous ammunition

Please see the original article here.

With the world gripped in a historic wave of unrest, journalists in no fewer than 65 countries – about a third of the world – have been attacked covering protests since 2015, according to a report I authored for a U.N. agency that was published today.

One thing that stood out during my research for the report Safety of Journalists Covering Protests: Preserving Freedom of the Press During Times of Turmoil, published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO – was the use of dangerous munitions to suppress demonstrations.

Security forces in France and Israel, in particular, have deployed specific tools to devastating effect on the safety of the press covering protests.

French-invented “flash balls” have been used by riot police in the country since before the “yellow vest” protests began in 2018 over rising fuel prices and other economic grievances. They are made of rubber or condensed foam. While the original flash balls emitted a flash, the ones in use today do not. They travel at a higher velocity than other non-lethal projectiles like rubber bullets or pepper balls. A recent model of flash ball gun, known as the LBD40, fires 40mm projectiles traveling at speeds of up to 100 meters (328 feet) per second.

In December 2018, French authorities fired flash balls at reporters covering “yellow vest” protests, as CPJ documented at the time, citing news reports. According to CPJ’s research, several journalists were injured, including Boris Kharlamoff, a journalist for the audio press agency A2PRL, who said he was hit in the side even though he showed a press badge, and Liberation reporter Nicolas Descottes, who was struck in the face.

Multiple phone calls for comment to the French embassy in Washington, D.C. were not returned.

In the Occupied Palestinian Territory, another harsh weapon, the “butterfly bullet” was used by the Israel Defense Forces in response to Palestinian protests in 2018-2019, according to Al Jazeera, which cited testimony from medics. During those protests, known as the Great March of Return, Palestinians demanded to return to their historic homelands inside Israel, and for Israel to lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip.

An Israeli military vehicle keeps position at the border fence with Gaza during the Great March of Return protest on March 30, 2019. Medics in Gaza said the Israeli army shot “butterfly bullets” at protesters; reporters were injured and killed by Israeli fire during the protests. (AFP/Jack Guez)

While butterfly bullets come in different forms and calibers, the most damaging are live ammunition or rounds with metal casings designed to expand and fan out upon impact, causing maximum injury to flesh and bone. Marie-Elisabeth Ingres, the former head of Doctors Without Borders in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, described seeing injuries among Gaza protesters “where the bullet has literally destroyed tissue after having pulverized the bone.”

In August 2018, at least four Palestinian journalists were injured by gunfire and shrapnel, including from live “butterfly” rounds covering protests in Gaza, as CPJ documented at the time, citing news reports. During the same series of protests, photojournalist Yaser Murtaja with the Gaza-based Ain Media agency and journalist Ahmad Abu Hussein who was reporting for Voice of the People radio, were shot by Israeli forces in separate incidents and both died from their wounds, as CPJ documented. In both cases, the journalists were clearly identified as members of the press. It’s unclear what kind of munition the IDF used in those two shootings.

In a statement on its website, the IDF denied that it used expanding bullets against Gaza protesters. Such munitions, also known as “dumdum” rounds, have been outlawed in war since the Hague Declaration concerning Expanding Bullets of 1899. However, the treaty does not apply to situations where no war has been declared. A spokesperson for the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C. did not return a request for comment sent via email.

According to my review of attacks against the press, Israel is unusual in its use of live ammunition on protesters. Flash balls have shown up in countries outside of France; in Spain, riot police under the regional government in Basque Country used the ammunition to quell protests as late as at least 2012, before their use was discontinued, the BBC reported.

The Horror: Rwanda, a history lesson

Original article can be found here.

For most of the world, Rwanda’s dark spasm of violence seemed to come out of nowhere. It didn’t. Though the bloodiness of the killing fields is unprecedented, the country, at least in its post-colonial existence, has been subject to a number of massacres: some took place more than thirty years ago; others occurred just last year.

In any analysis of Rwanda’s tortured modern history, all roads lead to Belgium, which governed the East-Central African country as a protectorate after Germany’s defeat in World War I. Until the late 1950s Belgium allied itself with the minority Tutsi, who had ruled over the rival Hutu for centuries. Since Rwanda’s independence in 1962, Belgian officials claim to have pursued a policy of neutrality; Rwanda’s Hutu leadership disagrees. They accuse Belgium of playing a role in the April death of Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana, which sparked the current fighting. Hutu-controlled Radio des Milles Collines in Kigali has gone so far as to claim that Belgian troops shot down the president’s plane. According to The Washington Post, Belgian peacekeepers were in such danger of attack that they stripped their uniforms of Belgium’s flag-patch and “traveled in undershirts so they could be mistaken for French.”

For Belgium, Rwanda has never been much of a prize. “In the darkest days of World War I,” Time magazine reported in 1959, “about the only consolation that fell to the Belgians was the capture in Africa of two small and scenically beautiful German territories”: Rwanda and Burundi. Belgium ruled “Rwanda and Burundi through a master tribe of willowy African giants named the Watutsis. The Watutsis had been for four centuries the lords of the Land of the Mountains of the Moon, and there seemed little reason why they should not continue to be so.”

Nomadic pastoralists, the Tutsi did not come in a sudden invasion to the area southwest of Lake Victoria, but slowly in search of land to graze cattle on. The Hutu were already there farming the same land. By the sixteenth century the Tutsi monarchy was established. The Mwami king was said to be the eye of God: his children were born in the heavens but, by accident, had fallen to earth. The king’s symbol of divine power was the kalinga, or sacred drum, upon which the genitals of vanquished enemies were hung. The Tutsi dynasty lasted eighteen generations. “They are proud, sophisticated and not particularly energetic. Several times we saw Watutsi lords sitting on bicycles and being pushed by their Vassals,” wrote historian John Gunther in 1953. “‘They value women highly, almost as highly as cattle and live on milk and peas.”

Although Tutsi and Hutu have distinct origins as people, with time they came to speak the same language, Kinyarwanda. They also evolved into different classes of the same society. According to historian Alison Des Forges, the Hutu and Tutsi were not so much “tribes or even ethnic groups [but] … amorphous categories based on occupation: Hutu were cultivators and Tutsi, pastoralists.” The distinction had much to do with status: a rich Hutu who owned cattle could become a recognized Tutsi, while a Tutsi who lost cattle could wind up being labeled Hutu. But it also had to do with physical appearance: unlike Hutu, Tutsi tend to be tall, with high cheekbones and sharp facial features. “They are not Negroes even though they may be jet black,” wrote Gunther. “In any case, tallness is the symbol of racial exclusiveness and pure blood.”

In governing the Rwanda protectorate, Belgium’s policy was explicitly racist. Early in its mandate, Belgium declared: “The government should endeavor to maintain and consolidate traditional cadres composed of the Tutsi ruling class, because of its important qualities, its undeniable intellectual superiority and its ruling potential.” Belgium instituted apartheid-like identity cards, which marked the bearer as Tutsi, Hutu, or twa (pygmy). And Belgium educated only male Tutsi.

Schooling for Hutus was generally undertaken by private Catholic missions. Eventually, “the Hutus began to counter Tutsi notions of superiority with a Christian-based liberation movement. This trend was given further impetus by the growing African demand for independence from Europe. By 1957 the Hutu began to organize politically. Fearful. Rwanda’s Tutsi rulers wanted Belgium to give them autonomy quickly, before they lost control.

The Tutsi were too late. In 1959 the Hutu rose up in rebellion. Time reported: “Though the Muhutus left the Watutsi women and children alone, they showed no mercy to the males: those they did not kill they maimed by chopping off their feet. They put banana plantations to the torch, set dozens of villages afire, left some helpless old people to burn to death in their own huts.”

From then until 1964, it only got worse. The philosopher Bertrand Russell described the Hutu rebellion as “the most horrible and systematic massacre we have had occasion to witness since the extermination of the Jews by the Nazis.” According to Des Forges, as many as 20,006 Tutsis perished. An estimated 150,000 Tutsi exiles — known as Banyarwanda — fled to Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda and Zaire. Most went to Uganda, where they suffered under the tyranny of Milton Obote and Idi Amin.

This repression eventually drove some Banyarwanda to join a guerrilla movement started in 1981 by Yoweri Museveni, a former defense minister under Obote. At least 2,000 Banyarwanda, including a tall Rwandan by the name of Paul Kagame, fought with him. After five years of fighting, Museveni and his men took power. Over time at least 2,000 more Banyarwanda joined Uganda’s army. In October 1990 these Banyarwanda, with Museveni’s silent blessing, declared themselves members of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), and, with Ugandan weapons, invaded Rwanda. (Uganda insists the weapons were stolen.) At the time of the invasion Kagame was Uganda’s military intelligence chief, he now commands the RPF.

Until the RPF invaded in 1990, Belgium had been Rwanda’s main provider of military assistance and training. But Belgium is unique among former colonial states in that its laws now prohibit it from providing lethal aid to a country at war. After Rwanda’s war started Belgium continued to provide boots, uniforms and training, but no arms. Consequently, President Habyarimana turned to France, which had signed military cooperation pacts with most of Africa’s twenty-one Francophone regimes. (Because Rwanda is an ex-Belgian protectorate, French is an official language along with Kinyarwanda.) Spurred on by the fact that the RPF was English-speaking and backed by English-speaking Uganda, France rushed in weapons, munitions, paratroopers and advisers to keep Rwanda’s government from falling.

While France helped the predominately Hutu Rwandan army repel the 1990 invasion. Rwanda’s hard-line Hutu leaders responded by overseeing the killing of Tutsi civilians. Although fighting was limited to northern Rwanda, soldiers staged a battle in Kigali and used it as a pretext to arrest up to 8,000 people, mostly Tutsi. There were beatings, rapes and murders. Rwandan intelligence distributed Kalashnikovs to municipal authorities in selected villages. They gathered with ruling party militants, most of whom carried staves, clubs or machetes. Sometimes holding cardboard placards of Habyarimana’s portrait above their heads, they went field-to-field in search of Tutsi, killing thousands.

Of course, the RPF wasn’t innocent. An international human rights commission report found them responsible for abuses, including executions of up to several hundred Hutu civilians and military prisoners. In response, supposedly pro-Tutsi Belgium withdrew its Ambassador, Johan Swinnen for two weeks in March 1993. “When I returned we put pressure on [all sides] to react to the report,” he said last June in Kigali, “because the future of the country … depends on it.”

At the same time, however, France continued to defend the Hutu regime. “Civilians were killed as in any war,” said Col. Bernard Cussac. France’s ranking military commander in Kigali. Ambassador Jean-Michel Marlaud was more diplomatic. “There are violations by the Rwandan army,” he said. “[But] more because of a lack of control by, the government rather than the will of the government.” But Belgian officials said that the French were undermining collective diplomatic efforts to influence the regime. “If they would only use their military presence as a lever.” said one. “I would like to see them take a more outspoken policy on democracy and human rights.” France never did

Nevertheless, two months later, in August 1993, President Habyarimana and RPF Commander Kagame signed an agreement to end the war. Habyarimana had already begun to share power with Hutu leaders outside his party. Until then he had run the country with a small group of men, most of whom were related to either him or his wife. Known as the Akazu or “Little House” (as in: the house that surrounded the president), these men controlled the elite Presidential Guard and Radio des Milles Collines. When Habyarimana let opposition members into his Cabinet in 1992, the Little House countered by forming militias called Interahamwe, or “Those Who Attack Together” and Impuzamugambi, or “Those Who Have the Same Goal.”

Soon after, several Hutu opposition leaders were assassinated and terrorist attacks became common. Bombs exploded in public markets, land mines were placed on roads away from fighting. Though no group ever claimed responsibility, all non-French Western diplomats in Kigali suspected the Little House. “We told them it is in your interest to respect human rights,” said one Belgian diplomat, “and if you don’t, we will not be silent.”

France and Radio des Milles Collines, however, blamed the RPF. Col. Cussac said his staff had traced the serial numbers of land mines used in attacks to Belgium, which had sold them to Libya, which in turn had sold them to the RPF. Cussac said Belgium could verify these facts. Belgian officials in Kigali declined comment, referring the query to the Belgian Foreign Ministry in Brussels. There, its spokesman, Ghislain D’Hoop, said that Belgium had sold no land mines to Libya in decades.

In Rwanda now, Belgium and France are even more at odds. Belgium’s foreign minister, William Claes, says Habyarimana was killed by Hutu extremists upset at his liberalizations. The rocket that struck his plane came from the Kanombe army base just east of the Kigali airport; further east are the Presidential Guard headquarters. In April, Paris received two of the “extremists,” Brussels denied them visas.

After the president’s plane went down, one of the first things Hutu Presidential Guard soldiers did was come looking for Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana, also a Hutu. Hours later, Uwilingiyimana and three of the peacekeepers were found three blocks away, shot dead. A few hours later, at the Kanombe army base, a Canadian general found the remaining seven peacekeepers. They had been hacked to death by machete.

Belgians are upset at their loss of men in Rwanda, and many blame France. They have a point. In arming the Hutu government, France pursued its own linguistic vision while ignoring Rwanda’s history; along with Tutsi and Hutu victims, Belgium paid the price. “Is there tension now;” repeated Brig. Gen. Andre Desmet by telephone from the Belgian Embassy in Washington. “I will be very cautious in the answer.” He paused. ‘There are maybe different approaches.”

Frank Smyth is the author of Arming Rwanda, a Human Rights Watch/Arms Project report.

Rwanda’s French Connection

“We have eight million people here,” an aid worker told me last June in Rwanda, “and all you Americans care about are those damn gorillas.”

I was in Rwanda investigating weapons trafficking for the Human Rights Watch/Arms Project, but I couldn’t argue with the man, a Tutsi. Almost the only news reaching the West last year from this small, landlocked Central Africa republic was the death of Mrithi, a male silverback gorilla shot by a frightened soldier. One of 325 mountain gorillas in Rwanda, Mrithi was mourned in a New York Times op-ed by Rutgers University anthropologist Dr. H. Dieter Steklis. He succeeded Dian Fossey, the champion of the apes portrayed by Sigourney Weaver in Gorillas in the Mist. Apart from his brave Rwandan staff, Steklis made no mention of the country’s people. At the time, one million of them were displaced from Northern Rwanda by the same fighting that killed Mrithi.

Last month, Rwanda’s people finally got the world’s attention, though accomplishing this took the fastest slaughter in memory, as many as 200,000 slain in a month. On April 27, Pope John Paul protested the killing as genocide. Most of the dead are Tutsi, a minority in a nation run by a small group of Hutu men. Government forces loyal to these Hutu men have also targeted and killed their Hutu political opponents, including spouses and children.

Since 1975, Rwanda’s Hutu regime has been a formal military ally of France, a relationship that has continued despite the April 6 apparent assassination of President Juvenal Habyarimana. On Aril 27, the same day the Vatican issued its moral plea, two top officials from Rwanda’s newly declared government were received by the French foreign ministry. The next day, they were received at the Elysee, the presidential palace.

Rwanda’s dictators have long been welcome in Paris. One of President Habyarimana’s closest friends abroad was French president Francois Mitterrand, an interventionist throughout Francophone Africa. It has been reported from Kigali that their sons, Christophe Mitterrand and Jean-Pierre Habyarimana, have caroused together in discos on the Left Bank and in Rwanda at the Kigali Nightclub. At the Elysee, Christophe had been his father’s special assistant on African affairs.

While it is unknown if President Mitterrand actually met with Rwanda’s new leaders in the palace, he did receive a January 25 letter from the Human Rights Watch/Arms Project that identified France “as the major military supporter of the government of Rwanda…. providing combat assistance to a Rwandan army guilty of widespread human rights abuses, and failing to pressure the Rwandan government to curb human rights violations.” Mitterrand has yet to respond.

The letter details Rwanda’s purchase of $6 million in arms from Egypt, with the bill still unpaid. France guaranteed the payment for this March 1992 contract, which included 70 mortars, 16,200 mortar bombs, 2000 land mines, 2000 rocket-propelled grenades, plastic explosives, 450 automatic rifles, and more than one million rounds of ammunition. That’s merely a single transaction. In addition, France has provided troops, advisers, and other weapons.

Rwanda is one of 14 Francophone African nations, almost all of which have military pacts with France. With few resources and less industry, the country’s direct foreign investment is near zero. But like the United States allying with anticommunist states during the Cold War, France has allied with Francophone nations. Some, like Zaire, with 60 per cent of the world’s cobalt, are of economic value. But all of them, as a bloc, give France command of enough votes in the United Nations to enjoy the pretense of being a world power.

Like neighboring Burundi to the south, Rwanda was a Belgian protectorate until independence in 1962. Before then, the Tutsi dominated Rwanda from the 17th century until 1960. The king, nobles, military commanders, and, especially, cattle herders were predominantly Tutsi. Most people among the remainder were Hutu subsistence farmers. Although they have distinct characteristics, Tutsi and Hutu are about as hard to tell apart as northern and southern Italians. Similar to northerners there, Tutsi have generally considered themselves superior.

In 1990, Tutsi guerrillas of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), many of them English-speaking, invaded Rwanda from English-speaking Uganda to the north. Belgium stayed relatively neutral, providing only nonlethal military aid to Rwanda. But France rushed in to defend the French-speaking Hutu regime, led by President Habyarimana and a group of men known as the Akazu or “Little House.” Over the next, three years, militant Hutu forces loyal them murdered up to 2000 Tutsi civilians. Although these abuses were documented by an international commission composed of Human Rights Watch/Africa and three Francophone monitoring organizations, France continued to defend Rwanda’s regime.

“Are you saying that the providing of military assistance is a human rights violation?” asked Colonel Cussac, his palm slamming his desk for emphasis. (The colonel, interviewed last June, wouldn’t provide his first name.) Noting that I am an American, the Colonel added, “France and the United States have a common history, for example, in Vietnam.”

More recent cases of intervention are also similar. France formally supported negotiations between Rwanda’s Hutu government and Tutsi guerrillas in the 1990s, much as the United States allegedly backed negotiations in the 1980s between El Salvador’s government and the guerrillas. But representatives of all the non-French Western diplomatic missions in Kigali said that France sought a clear victory for President Habyarimana and the Little House. “Cussac is a man in favor of a military solution,” said one European chief-of-mission. “They continue to defend and sustain the regime.”

But on April 12, France closed its embassy in Kigali and its military assistance mission. Having armed the government and the party-led militias, who are most responsible for the massacres, France fled (as did most of the 2500 United Nations troops), leaving behind a bloodbath, which also renewed the war between the Hutu government and Tutsi rebels. Even more astonishing, the French government has hardly said a word about a country whose fate it largely shaped. While the U.S. State Department studies the historic outbreak of “savagery” in Rwanda and the Vatican charges genocide, France keeps silent.

Last year, French soldiers manned checkpoints around Kigali. While some were armed with WASP 58 shoulder-fired rocket launchers, others demanded passing Rwandans to present their apartheid-like identification cards. The IDs were stamped Hutu (85 percent of the population), Tutsi, or Twa (hunters and potters, about 1 per cent of the population).

Inside Kigali checkpoints were manned by Rwandan army soldiers. Aside from the capital’s few taxis, most vehicles on the streets were army jeeps, French armored vehicles, and Land Cruisers belonging to foreign relief organizations. Getting a job with one of them, becoming a military officer, or being a friend or collaborator of President Habyarimana or the Little House were the main paths of advancement.

Photos of Habyarimana, by law, had been posted everywhere, even in the relief organizations. But when I arrived last summer, many portraits had been taken down. Rwanda’s political space was finally opening to Hutu opposition parties, and the Tutsi guerrillas were respecting the ceasefire. Yet Hutu opposition leaders were also being assassinated. While French and Rwandan officials alike blamed the RPF for these political killings, and other diplomats and surviving Hutu opposition leaders suspected the Little House.

“Shadow groups are behind the violence,” said Dr. Dismas Nsengiyaremye, one of several opposition party leaders. “Take the example of the mafia. Their chief may recruit from churches, the government, or private companies, which allow him to conduct criminal activities without being seen. Here, the shadow groups are able to build connections to carry out criminal activities with impunity.”

Last June, Charles Nzabagerageza, a government minister who admitted to being a member of the Little House, denied any government responsibility for the Escadrons de la Mort (death squads), as they became known: “[The accusations are] the result of whimsical minds, fabricated by a newspaper, and inspired by certain political groups for purposes which are political.”

My month-long visit to Rwanda left me with images that recur in dreams. On a Sunday visit to a military hospital, for example, I saw two soldiers who had been wounded the week before. One suffered an open femur fracture and gangrene. The other’s blood was soaking through old gauze wrapped around his stomach. I asked a recovering one-legged soldier, “Why aren’t these men being treated?”

“Oh.” he said. “The doctors don’t work weekends.”

On another day, Colonel Deogratias Nsabimana, who died with President Habyarimana in the April 6 plane crash, waved a stack of letters from Amnesty International activists at me. He wanted to know why he kept getting all these letters, worrying about prisoners of conscience in Rwanda’s jails. Despite his bewilderment, Colonel Nsabimana struck me as a serious military professional. There were some moderate officers in the Rwandan army.

Regardless, soldiers under them have long been notorious for their banditry. An American relief organization director told me that he was uncomfortable placing Western staff women near bases. Consisting of 5000 soldiers in 1990, before France financed its expansion, the Rwandan army had grown to more than 30,000 men. While weakly trained, some troops were armed with Egyptian-made Kalashnikov AKM automatic rifles and superior South African R-4 automatic rifles.

Over the same period, the RPF grew from 7000 to perhaps 15,000 guerrillas. Many carry Romanian Kalashnikovs and wear East German rain-pattern-camouflage uniforms. While many weapons were bought on the open market, Uganda donated to the RPF most of its other arms, including Soviet-made Katyusha multiple rocket launchers; landing in succession about 10 yards apart in fewer than five seconds per volley, their rockets spread shrapnel over an area wider and longer than a football field.

At their base camp near Mulindi in northern Rwanda during last year’s cease-fire, I saw RPF guerrillas marching shirtless and singing Tutsi folk and war songs. They appeared to be a well-trained and highly motivated resistance movement. Some of their fighters and most of their leaders spoke English. Most came from refugee families who had fled Rwanda before its independence in 1962, when an earlier wave of Hutu attacks had killed 20,000 Tutsi and driven at least 150,000 to neighboring countries. Today, about 200,000 of them and their descendants live in Uganda. They have competed — sometimes violently — with its citizens, and suffered under both dictators Idi Amin and A. Milton Obote.

But in 1986, a guerrilla army led by a defected defense minister named Yoweri Museveni overthrew Uganda’s, government. About 2000 Rwandan Tutsi, including Paul Kagame, fought with him. Museveni later put Kagame in charge of Ugandan military intelligence. In October 1990, more than half of the RPF’s invasion force, most of its weapons, and nearly all its leaders came directly out of the Ugandan army. President Museveni claims — still — that the deserters “stole” all the weapons they took with them. Kagame is currently the RPF top commander. At the RPF in Mulindi, Toni (his nom de guerre), an educated 30-year-old man with high cheekbones and a very soft manner of speaking, was the intelligence officer appointed to debrief me. Although soldiers served and saluted him, he claimed to be just another faithful recruit: “[What we] want is not necessarily to go back to [Rwanda], but to have a sense of national identity, to have citizenship, and the protection of the Rwandan flag.” That may be true for Toni. But many RPF guerrillas told me that they and their families want immediate repatriation.

The renewal of Rwanda’s conflict came when the prospect for peace never seemed better: President Habyarimana had signed a peace accord with RPF leaders, and he had agreed to divide cabinet posts equally among them, the Hutu opposition, and the Little House. The Little House had never before shared power. Its members had created the Presidential Guard and ruling party militias.

Shortly after President Habyarimana was killed in his plane as it approached Kigali airport April 6, Little House officials declared themselves in charge. While some of them have said that Tutsi RPF guerrillas shot down the president’s plane, the RTLM radio station the Little House controls said Belgian peacekeepers fired a rocket that brought the plane down. The assassination provoked a popular uprising, the Little House maintains.

Belgium’s foreign minister, William Claes, however, said Hutu extremists assassinated the president in a palace coup. Belgian troops reported seeing a rocket fired from the direction of the Kanombe army base just east of the airport; further east are the headquarters of the Presidential Guard. Within minutes of the crash, armed militia loyal to the Little House set up roadblocks in Kigali. Hours later, officials from Belgium and elsewhere said, Presidential Guard units killed three opposition party cabinet members, including then interim prime minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana. She was murdered with 10 Belgian peacekeepers who had tried to save her.

For months, RTLM announcers had been inciting Hutu militiamen against Tutsi: “The grave is only half-full. Who is going to fill it up?” Since the president’s assassination, RTLM has been “calling on militias to step up the killing of civilians,” according to UN spokesman Abdul Kabia in Kigali. Three weeks after the killings began, RTLM radio announced that Thursday, May 5 (when President Habyarimana was scheduled to be buried), would be the target date to finish “the clean-up” of Tutsi.

“When it comes to horror, this is one of the worst situations we have ever seen,” said Tony Burgener, spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva. (For diplomatic reasons, ICRC officials rarely comment on the record.) When the slaughter of the Hutu opposition and Tutsi families began, the main body of Rwandan army forces did not necessarily join in. Broadcast from Kigali, the army’s radio said that “angry soldiers” had engaged in “shameful criminal acts.” But expecting an RPF offensive, commanding officers failed to stop anyone from killing anybody.

When the bloodletting began, an RPF force of about 600 men was camped out in Kigali. The main body force of RPF fighters was still in and around Mulindi, 32 miles north. They began marching south. Destroying army positions along the way, they reached Kigali within five days. That day, April 11, French officials said they had no plans to leave. But the next day after the RPF began attacking Kigali, the French left.

Departing, French Legionnaire advisers predicted the government’s fall, as did American intelligence experts. But while Tutsi RPF guerrillas secured the north central corridor from Uganda to Kigali, Hutu militiamen and their mobs’ spread south, west, and east, killing more Tutsi families. Rather than then seizing control of a Kigali stacked with corpses, the RPF declared a cease-fire, albeit short-lived since it was contingent on the government stopping the killings. But in doing so, RPF commander Kagame wanted to show the world that his force was disciplined and obedient. Since then, some RPF guerrillas have fought the army, while the rest have pursued the militias.

The RPF now controls at least half the country, and the fighting is fiercer than ever, especially in and around Kigali.

Although I lived in Kigali for a month last year, I find it difficult to imagine the current violence. But I still can clearly picture certain people. One is journalist Sixbert Musangamfura, the editor of Isibo, a weekly newspaper. During an RPF offensive last year the Rwandan army confiscated a Mercedes-Benz truck with Ugandan license plates. Uganda denied, and still denies, supporting the RPF. Although a Tutsi, like the RPF rebels, Sixbert confirmed the Rwandan army’s account: By doing so, he helped France and Rwanda find a smoking gun, confirming their claim that Uganda supported the RPF. Nonetheless, after April 6, French-backed Hutu forces killed Sixbert, probably for being Tutsi. [CORRECTION: Sixbert Musangamfura, in fact, survived the genocide and has since relocated to Brussels.] Among the dozen Rwandans whose cards are in my Rolodex, only two are known to be alive.

© Copyright 1994 Frank Smyth

French Guns, Rwandan Blood

Read the original article here.

HAWTHORNE, N.J. — The horrendous violence that has seized the tiny African republic of Rwanda is not as random as it looks. For the members of the Akazu, the ruling clan around the late President Juvenal Habyarimana, the only way to retain a 21-year monopoly on power was to kill their enemies as fast as they could. And until yesterday, when anti-Government rebels overran the capital of Kigali, that brutal clique was getting help from an unlikely quarter: France.

Rwanda was a Belgian protectorate until it gained independence in 1962, and until recently it got most of its military aid from Belgium. But Belgian law prohibits any lethal aid to a country at war. In 1975, two years “after he seized power by deposing the President who had appointed him, Mr. Habyarimana signed a military cooperation agreement with France. When the rebel guerrillas of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (harbored and largely armed by neighboring Uganda) invaded in 1990 and again last year, it was France that rushed in combat troops, mortars and artillery to help the Government.

Why France? Rwanda is “nobody’s idea of a choice colonial prize,” as The Economist tartly put it. It has few resources, little industry and a lot of AIDS. Like its neighbor Burundi, it has been torn by decades of ethnic strife between the Hutu and the Tutsi. But French is an official language — even though one in six adults are fluent in it – and that counts for a great deal. France has invested heavily in Francophone Africa and provides military and financial aid to a network of its own former colonies. Mr. Habyarimana was a friend of President Francois Mitterrand.

France’s commitment to the Habyarimana regime was underscored by its recent subsidy of Rwanda’s purchase of $6 million in arms from Egypt. A contract signed in Kigali in 1992 includes a full arsenal of mortars, long-range artillery, plastic explosives and automatic rifles. Payment was guaranteed by the nationalized French bank Credit Lyonnais.

Nor has France had much to say about Rwanda’s atrocious record on human rights. Mr. Habyarimana — who died with the President of Burundi in a suspicious plane crash last week — was a classic despot, ruthless and corrupt. He installed relatives and cronies in key ministries, the army and a paramilitary militia. (This group is known as the Akazu.)

When the rebels, who are largely Tutsi, invaded in 1990, the Akazu incited a policy of ethnic cleansing. Carrying placards of Mr. Habyarimana above their heads, local officials and militiamen organized mobs of agitated Hutu. They killed thousands of Tutsi, while Tutsi killed hundreds of Hutu. Victims were hacked to death with machetes.

Last August, Rwanda and the rebels agreed to end their three-year war, and six months later the President agreed to a transitional government, dividing ministerial posts three ways among the Akazu, Hutu opposition parties led by Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana, and Tutsi representatives. Among these groups, the Akazu was the most reluctant to share power.

Hours after the President was killed last Wednesday, his Presidential Guard went on a rampage. They killed Prime Minister Uwilingiyimana, along with Belgian peacekeepers who had tried to save her; most other opposition party members; priests and nuns, journalists and human rights monitors. Militiamen and soldiers under irregular command randomly attacked Tutsi or anyone suspected of being one.

Now the Government forces are in retreat, killing and burning as they flee. If the rebels take control, they have said that they will share power with other parties; the world will have to wait to see.

For now, the horror in Rwanda should serve as a grisly lesson in the dangers of imperial reach. Of 21 French-speaking African regimes, most are dictatorships with scant respect for human rights. In January, when France devalued the currency used by 14 of these nations, it sent a welcome signal that it would cut back its subsidy of their economies. But its military policy lags behind its economic one; in propping up the Rwandan regime for so long, it bears part of the blame for the current bloodbath.