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1994: Rwanda presidents' plane 'shot down'

VIDEO : Assassinations leave a bleak future in Central Africa

The presidents of the African states of Rwanda and Burundi have been killed in a plane crash near the Rwandan capital, Kigali.

Juvenal Habyarimana of Rwanda and Burundi's Cyprian Ntayamira were among 10 people on the aircraft which some reports say was brought down by rocket fire.

The two presidents were returning from a meeting of east and central African leaders in Tanzania at which they discussed ways to end the ethnic violence in Burundi and Rwanda.

Bloody feuding between the majority Hutu tribe and the minority Tutsis has plagued both tiny central African states for centuries.

It has been particularly bad in Burundi where up to 100,000 people have been killed since the assassination of the country's first democratically-elected president - a Hutu - last October.

In Rwanda, President Habyarimana's Hutu coalition reached a peace accord last August with Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) rebels, made up mainly of Tutsis, but they have failed to agree on a transitional government.

The deaths of the presidents, both Hutus, looks likely to make the situation in both states worse.

Heavy fighting has already been reported around the presidential palace in Rwanda after news of the deaths spread.

News agencies in Kigali said explosions have been rocking the city but it was not immediately clear who was involved in the fighting.


Rwanda's ambassador to the United Nations, Jean Damascene Bizimana, said the presidents' deaths had been an "assassination".

Members of the UN Security Council held a minute's silence for the presidents and later appealed for calm while the crash was investigated.

From 1890 until 1962 Rwanda and Burundi were one nation, Ruanda-Urundi.

It was under the control of first Germany and later Belgium.

The Belgians supported Tutsi kings' rule over the Hutu majority - worsening the bad feeling between the tribes.

In Context
The deaths of the presidents led to more ethnic conflict in both states but it was especially savage in Rwanda.

By June 1994 the Rwandan military - helped by Hutu civilians - had massacred at least 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

After the Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front victory captured Kigali in July, two million Hutus fled into neighbouring Zaire (later the Democratic Republic of Congo)

Many were too afraid of retribution to return in spite of the formation of a multi-ethnic government with a Hutu as president.

In 1995 a UN-appointed international tribunal began trying some of the people behind the atrocities in Rwanda.

But by the end of 2001 the tribunal had judged just nine cases, handing down eight convictions and one acquittal.

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