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Thursday, 7 June, 2001, 09:22 GMT 10:22 UK
Eyewitness: A forlorn anniversary
Skulls from the genocide preserved for the tribunal
Skulls from the genocide preserved for the tribunal
Fergal Keane was in Rwanda at the time of the killings. One year on, in April 1995, he returned to Nyarabuye, scene of one of the worst massacres, to mark a forlorn anniversary.

In my dream, the one which came back again and again last summer, I was lying at the bottom of a pile of bodies.

They were thin, reed-like shapes and they squirmed and turned around me, soundless creatures slowly dying, a hand always grasping mine, pulling me back to a land where no sun ever shone, no voices ever laughed.

When it first came I was in a hotel room on the Oregon coast, where the waters of the Pacific Ocean rolled in, just outside our window.

I should have been happy there, but my head was filled to bursting with bad dreams and the insidious odours of death, which had followed me out of Rwanda a month before.

On the first night the dead came just after three o'clock.

I woke shouting, the figures still present even in my wakefulness; and they have come many times since.


"They" are the late residents of a small settlement called Nyarabuye, which lies in the hills of southern Rwanda, close by the border with Tanzania.

I arrived there on a night in early June after a long dusty drive through the bush.

Every now and then, Valence, the boy soldier, would lapse into long bouts of silence, into which nobody, not even his friend and senior, Frank, could intrude

It was a particularly nerve-wracking drive as the countryside around Nyarabuye was still crawling with members of the Interahamwe extremist militia who had played such a large part in the genocide.

They operated from camps inside Tanzania where tens of thousands of Hutu refugees had fled after the collapse of the government.

Our escort was a tough laconic rebel fighter named Frank. He had brought with him one other soldier, a 17-year-old boy named Valence, whose family had been murdered in the genocide.

Most of the time Valence smiled and played the part of the diligent escort. He loved his uniform, and went to enormous lengths to keep it spick and span.

People lay in clumps: A mother and her three children, a tall man in a blue check-shirt lying directly across the pathway - most had been hacked to death

But every now and then, Valence, the boy soldier, would lapse into long bouts of silence, into which nobody, not even his friend and senior, Frank, could intrude.

Our destination was the parish church of Nyarabuye, where several thousand people had been massacred at the height of the killing.

Frank had been here before and knew what to expect.

Perhaps that explains his silence as we drove the last few kilometres across the bumpy bush track that led to the church.


The church compound was completely surrounded by trees, so that we could see nothing of the buildings or what lay around them, until the moment of arrival.

And then we were there, among "them", stepping out of the car into that smell which haunted the air.

I followed Frank across the gravel courtyard to the first bodies.

There were four people, three women and a man, their bodies splayed into improbable shapes, one had been decapitated.

I followed Frank's example and tied a handkerchief around my face.

In the small garden of the church the stench of death became overpowering and I felt myself heave and wretch.

Bones of genocide victims
The exact number killed in the genocide is still unknown
People lay in clumps: A mother and her three children, a tall man in a blue check-shirt lying directly across the pathway - most had been hacked to death.

A young woman lying on her side, her mouth open, frozen in a last cry of anguish, or terror, or incomprehension.

A child of perhaps four or five cut down on the steps of the schoolroom.

Inside the church itself, in the darkness, the dead lay between the pews, some in the Sacristy where they'd been discovered hiding.

Everywhere I looked the dead in poses both frightful and sad, lay wasting slowly into nothingness.


Frank put his arm around my shoulder and told me it was time to go. "It's not good to stay here my friend", he said gently.

By now the night had fallen thick and heavy around the church.

We shone our torches into the grass, side-stepping the corpses as we made our way back to the car.

I wanted to cry for the anonymous dead but no tears came.

And so I opened the Land Rover door and climbed into the safe odours of tobacco and sweat.

Frank started the car and switched on the headlights.

They illuminated the door of the church and the body which lay directly in front.

Above it, in the outer beams of the light, stood the statue of Christ, smiling gently, with arms outstretched, gazing down on the mortal wretchedness of man.

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See also:

19 May 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Rwanda's slow justice
02 Apr 01 | Africa
Eyewitness: A survivor's story
10 May 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Rwanda
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UN general's Rwandan nightmares
11 Jan 00 | Africa
Rwandans to sue UN
17 Jul 00 | Africa
Rwanda counts its dead
17 Dec 99 | Africa
UN should make amends - Rwanda
16 Dec 99 | Africa
UN admits failure in Rwanda
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