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The BBC's Chris Simpson in Kigali
"One of the banners proclaimed: 'Only fools can forget'"
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Friday, 7 April, 2000, 18:27 GMT 19:27 UK
Belgian apology to Rwanda
Worker cleans piles of bones
The bones of thousands of people were exhumed
The Belgian prime minister has asked for forgiveness for his country's part in failing to prevent the killing of hundreds of thousands of Rwandans in the 1994 genocide.

Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt's public apology came as Rwandans concluded a week of mourning for genocide victims - a week which has seen the bodies of thousands of murdered people exhumed and reburied.

The international community as a whole carries a huge and heavy responsibility in the genocide

Belgian PM Guy Verhofstadt
Mr Verhofstadt also condemned United Nations officials for their failure to prevent the deaths of the Rwandan prime minister and 10 Belgian peacekeepers murdered at the start of the genocide.

"I confirm that the international community as a whole carries a huge and heavy responsibility in the genocide," he told a gathering of several thousand Rwandans - including senior officials.

"Here before you I assume the responsibility of my country, the Belgian political and military authorities."


He unveiled a plaque in memory of the 10 peacekeepers who had been assigned to protect Rwandan Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana, and then slaughtered by the Rwandan army - which was at that time dominated by Hutu extremists.

"For reasons beyond our understanding, nothing was done to help them," Mr Verhostadt said, blaming a "badly planned, badly equipped system" for their deaths.

Relatives of the murdered soldiers had travelled to Rwanda for the ceremony, and wept as the prime minister spoke.

Relatives watch digging
Relatives were on hand as remains were retrieved from a cesspit
Belgium became the colonial power in Rwanda following the defeat of the territory's former German rulers in World War I.

The Belgians' preferential treatment of Tutsis over Hutus during the colonial period has been blamed for fostering the ethnic hatred which led eventually to the genocide.

The ceremony, held on a hillside at Gisozi on the outskirts of the capital, Kigali, was dedicated to the memory of the estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus who died at the hands of Hutu extremists in 1994.


Over the past few weeks the authorities have supervised the exhumation of thousands of victims, many of whom had been buried in ad hoc mass graves by their killers.

Mourners at ceremony
Thousands attended the memorial service
At a house in the Nyamirambo district of Kigali, BBC correspondent Chris Simpson found a team of workmen attempting to retrieve bodies from a well shaft.

Relations of the dead were waiting, hoping they could identify the remains of family members.

While supporting the authorities' attempts to honour the dead, many genocide survivors say the government has not done nearly enough for orphans, widows and other vulnerable groups.

Survivors argue that commemorative events like the reburial ceremony need to be backed up by support programmes and other initiatives if the legacy of the genocide is to be properly addressed.

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01 Apr 00 | Africa
Rwanda genocide death sentences
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