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Thursday, 7 June, 2001, 10:10 GMT 11:10 UK
Visiting the scene of genocide
Pile of bones
It is not known exactly how many people died
Helen Vesperini in Butare, southern Rwanda

If you did not know what happened at the convent near Butare seven years ago you would never guess from the look of the place.

The air smells of pine needles; hibiscus sway in the breeze; soft spoken Benedictine nuns in coffee-coloured habits offer breakfast.

Only the way they constantly twiddle their fingers betrays any unease.

They say they do not understand either. The alleged crimes that brought two of their fellow nuns before a court in Brussels are indeed difficult to comprehend.

Accused

The former mother superior, Sister Gertrude, is accused of having turned over Tutsi refugees who forced their way into the convent to escape their attackers, knowing very well that they would be killed on leaving the building.

Sister Maria-Kizito is accused of having carried gasoline to the militia who burned the remaining refugees alive within the convent.

After the horrors of 1994 some sisters, including the two standing trial, left the convent.

The current mother superior says that among those who stayed, opinions are divided - some are filled with sadness, others are pleased to see justice being done.

The nuns standing trial say they are haunted by the events of 1994.

Just down the road, in the stifling silence of Gikongoro, is one of the most disturbing genocide memorials - a technical high school filled with thousands of bodies.

There are babies with their skulls smashed in - and their parents, frozen forever, trying in vain to protect themselves from a fatal machete blow to the head.

See also:

17 Apr 01 | Europe
Rwanda nuns in genocide trial
17 Jul 00 | Africa
Rwanda counts its dead
05 Jul 00 | Africa
UN general's Rwandan nightmares
22 Jan 00 | Africa
Rwanda updates genocide list
16 Dec 99 | Africa
UN admits failure in Rwanda
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