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Thursday, March 18, 1999 Published at 16:48 GMT

World: Africa

Eyewitness: Rwanda's survivors

Hundreds of thousands of Rwandans were forced to flee the carnage

By Cathy Jenkins in Rwanda

I meet Esperance as she is waiting for her turn to collect a yellow jerrycan and a blanket from local officials who are organising an emergency distribution from the steps of the mayor's office in the commune of Cyeru.

From the archive: Mark Doyle witnesses the evacuation (11.4.94)
Esperance is a widow with seven children. Her husband was killed last year - she doesn't know how.

This is north-west Rwanda, where ever since the 1994 genocide, Hutu extremist rebels who carried out the massacres have continued to wage war against the government.

[ image:  ]
Esperance's husband might have been killed by the rebels, or he might have been killed by the army in one of their counter-insurgency operations.

Whatever, he has become another statistic in the long list of civilians who have been doomed for helping the rebels, or equally, doomed if they didn't.

Breaking insurgency

In an attempt to stamp out the insurgency, the Rwandan Government has initiated a mass programme of resettlement in the north-west Ruhengeri region.

[ image: The Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front captured Kigali and claimed victory]
The Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front captured Kigali and claimed victory
Peasant farmers who tilled fields high on the hillsides are being regrouped into new villages.

The government says this will improve the security of the villagers, and deprive the rebels of their support base.

The "villagisation" programme has been meticulously planned. The mayor of Cyeru commune has the precise figures for his area - 57 new villages for 21,104 families.

International aid agencies, wary of the concept of "villagisation", are limiting themselves to giving emergency relief only for the moment. The villagers themselves have no choice.

The rebels operating in Ruhengeri are made up of Interahamwe - extremist Hutu militiamen - and soldiers of the former Rwandan Armed Forces (ex-Far) who together carried out the mass slaughter of Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 1994.

When the Rwandan Patriotic Front finally won control of the capital from them and ended the genocide, the new government embarked on a five-year period of stabilisation. It says the "villagisation" programme is part of its ongoing efforts.

Genocide legacy

From the archive: George Alagiah reports on the capture of Kigali (23.5.94)
Five years have not been nearly long enough for many survivors of the genocide to come to terms with what happened.

Mary Balikungeri runs an organisation which is trying to help women still traumatised by their experience.

From her office in Kigali she takes telephone calls from around the world, hoping they will yield funds for the church-based Rwanda Women's Net.

The organisation provides women with counselling and a place to meet and talk. In such a conservative society as Rwanda, just to begin to talk about the rape and the violence they suffered means for the women overcoming a huge taboo.

Survivors' stories

Clemantine is a 21-year-old woman who speaks quietly about the day that she and her mother were raped.

Clemantine now works in an orphanage - something which she says keeps her busy, and brings in at least some income.

But she doesn't know how long she will continue because of her health - when she was raped she was also infected with the HIV virus.

Her mother, likewise infected, is now seriously ill, and medicines are expensive. Mary Balikungeri believes that the process of talking is, for women like Clemantine, part of the slow process of healing.

But she says she still finds it difficult to answer women who ask her what explanation they should give to children born after rape, once the children are old enough to ask who their fathers were.

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