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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 April, 2004, 09:00 GMT 10:00 UK
Too little, too late, wrong place
By Mark Doyle
BBC reporter in Rwanda, 1994

General Romeo Dallaire
General Romeo Dallaire says he could have saved thousands
The film starts - and it is a film in my head, a film that remains in clear, digital clarity - with the dead body of a teenage girl in central Kigali, somewhere between the Mille Collines Hotel and the Red Cross hospital.

She was wearing a blue canvas dress when she was killed, along with the rest of her family, on a verge by a roadblock.

I know the pro-government militia did it because two hours earlier, when I passed this verge and bluffed my way through this same roadblock, her body wasn't here.

The film turns, frame by frame.

There's the old tea estate in the north that had become the RPF headquarters. Looking down from the hilltop estate buildings, I see an abandoned tea field.


There is, after all, a limit to the number of dead bodies you want to see

The bright green leaves, that haven't been plucked for years, contrast with the dark green of the bush that surrounds it. The contrast of the two colours is so stark and precise along the edges that the field looks like a placid green sea.

Back in Kigali I can see empty streets covered with abandoned scraps of clothing. And I can smell that awful smell.

That sickly sweet smell that makes you want to retch and turn back but which you know, as a journalist, you have to investigate - if only a little. There is, after all, a limit to the number of dead bodies you want to see.

In the car park of the beleaguered United Nations peacekeeping force I can see two broken-down armoured personnel carriers at the gate.

The UN force is far too small, doesn't have enough equipment, and has been more or less abandoned by the Security Council in New York.

Refugees at Gisenyi
Half a million refugees massed in Gisenyi

But a handful of committed peacekeepers soldier on. I can see a gap-toothed African captain rush through the car park and into the headquarters building, a sheaf of maps under his arm, the light blue United Nations epaulette on his shoulder standing out from the olive green fatigues.

Minutes later, the captain rushes out of the building again and sets off on another of his dozens of missions to locate and save people trapped by the fighting or, targeted by murderers, cowering in their homes.

The young African officer is Captain Mbaye Diagne from Senegal. He is soon to die from a mortar round. I can see the blood on his car seat minutes after his death.

I can see the gold tooth of the man who briefly reigned as interim President of Rwanda, Theodore Sindikubwabo. He is talking to me in an abandoned teacher training college in Gitarama, an hour's drive west of Kigali.

The remains of the government have fled here ahead of the RPF advance and he says he is in charge. "It's an ethnic problem", the president says, again and again, and "we will defeat the enemy". I report what he says.

Back in the capital, standing on the roof of the UN headquarters building, I can see across a valley to the recently built parliament. The light is good, the picture clear.

Like rolling thunder

Of the Permanent Five Council members, the US and Britain don't want a major commitment
Mark Doyle

But I don't see the arc in the sky drawn by an incoming mortar round. I hear the "crump" as it explodes near the parliament and flinch.

"You didn't see that coming, did you?" Standing next to me is General Romeo Dallaire, commander of the UN force. Along with a couple of hundred peacekeepers he has decided to stay on, to salvage what lives he can.

Standing on that roof, I switch into autopilot and interview Dallaire. But the truth is that all I can concentrate on is a wall of deafening sound coming from the nearby suburb of Nyamirambo. "Small arms", says Dallaire, "And a lot of them".

Small arms? Small arms? Rifles and pistols are not supposed to sound like that. You're supposed to hear "crack" or "whizz" every now and again. But this is constant, rolling thunder. Deafening. "Yep", repeats Dallaire in his Canadian accent, "a helluva lot of them".

I can see lines of white United Nations trucks meeting at a roundabout in central Kigali. One line of vehicles has come from the Mille Collines hotel. It carries Tutsis and moderate Hutu opponents of the government.

The other line comes from the Amahoro football stadium and carries Hutus. Unarmed UN military observers are atop the trucks supervising a swap of humanity.

Actively opposed

Rwandan People's Front soldiers
Rwandan People's Front soldiers cross a river
Thousands of people would have their lives saved in this way. Armed government militiamen are swarming around the Tutsis, wanting to kill them.

I can see Dallaire setting out his plan for me in another interview, this time in his office. He is dressed in a light fawn Canadian army uniform with blue UN badges.

"Five and half thousand troops", he says, "and I think I can save a lot of people. Give me five and a half thousand and I'll secure every major church and football stadium.

The people can take refuge there, and with five and a half thousand, I'll have just enough to protect them". Dallaire talks fast.

The security council votes for the troops but of course they don't arrive on time. Of the permanent five council members, the US and Britain don't want a major commitment, and actively oppose Dallaire's plan.

The French are doing their own thing. The Russians and the Chinese are on the sidelines.

The final frame of my film is in Gisenyi, hard on the border with the former Zaire, now DR Congo. Gisenyi is littered with red beer crates from the looting of the brewery.

Barbed wire

Too little, too late, wrong place

A tall RPF commander approaches me, walking out of the smouldering city, and introduces himself as Bruce Munyango. He has a finger missing on his right hand. He takes me right up to the border to show that this last major town is now fully under RPF control.

The next day, the RPF commander Paul Kagame tells me that the taking of Gisenyi means he has won the war. It doesn't feel like a victory.

The RPF may have won the shooting war (between armies), but it lost the genocide war (between peoples).

Rwanda stinks of dead bodies almost everywhere you go.

In Gisenyi, I look through the barbed wire border post and see a succession of big planes arriving from Europe.

They are landing in the Zairean town of Goma just across the border. They are bringing peacekeeping soldiers, food and medicines to help the half a million refugees who just fled Rwanda.

Peacekeepers, food and medicines. Too little, too late, wrong place.

Panorama: The Killers was broadcast on BBC One on Sunday, 4 April 2004 at 2215 BST



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