Genocide flame in Bugesera where Tutsi extermination project was first tested
The Kwibuka Flame of Remembrance today reaches Ntarama in Bugesera District, the 25th stop on its tour of Rwanda. The flame will return to Kigali on 7 April 2014, the start of the national mourning period and twenty years since the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. You can view an interactive map of the tour here. The flame travels next to Rukumbeli in Ngoma District on 24 March 2014.
Today’s event is hosted by the Mayor of Bugesera, Louis Rwagaju, and will reflect on the events of the 1994 genocide as well as the journey of unity and renewal in Bugesera and Rwanda since. The Flame of Remembrance will be received from Rwamagana District by two 20-year-old students, Florence Umugwaneza and Innocent Nsegiyumva, both from Ntarama Secondary School. A children’s choir will sing ‘Urumuri Rutazima’ (Never Ending Flame) to welcome the flame. The special guest is Hon. Jacqueline Muhongayire, Minister for the East African Community. The Governor of the Eastern Province, Odette Uwamariya will also speak.
Testimony will be given by Alex Habarugira (57) who will reflect on the history of Bugesera, including the role that former mayor, Bernard Gatanazi, and Fidele Rwambuka played in the genocide. Perpetrator Alphonse Hitiyaremye (58) will also speak at today’s event. He was part of the militia that attacked Ntarama church and killed Tutsi taking refuge there. A poem will be read by local musician Jean de Dieu Rwamihare (32).
Bugesera is composed of the former communes of Kanzenze, Ngenda and Gashora. Before 1960, most of the area was uninhabited because of the TseTse fly infestation. At that time however, Tutsi from the Northern Province were forcibly moved to Bugesera. A second group of Tutsi from Gikongoro followed in 1963. Between 1960 and 1969, Tutsi who had been forced to flee Rwanda attempted to return to the country by force from Burundi. Mass killings in Bugesera followed as the government of President Kayibanda killed Tutsi men, some in Gako forest and others who were thrown into Rwabayanga cave. Other Tutsi living in the area fled to Nyamata parish for protection.
Tutsi continued to be persecuted and between 1991 and 1993, many Tutsi were killed. Italian volunteer Antonia Locatelli was working in the area at the time and witnessed the massacres. She attempted to tell the world about what was happening in Bugesera. The day after she made her appeal to the international community she was murdered.
When the genocide began on 7 April 1994, Tutsi fled to the churches where many had taken refuge in the early 1960s. These included Nyamata, Ntarama and Kayenzi. On 11 April 1994 around 10,000 Tutsi who at taken refuge at Nyamata parish were systematically murdered. On 14 April, around 6,000 Tutsi who had fled to Ntarama church were also killed.
Traditional weapons such as machetes, spears and arrows as well as grenades were used to massacre the victims. The weapons used in the executions can be seen at the church today which is now a memorial site. Among these is a stick that was used to abuse women.
It was not only at the Nyamata, Ntarama, Kayenzi churches that mass killings took place. The hills of Maranyundo, Muyange and Kayumba and along the Akagera river swamp also became killing grounds. Bugesera District has four memorials where more than 65,000 victims of the genocide are now buried. More than 45,000 victims are buried at the memorial in Nyamata.
Text source: kwibuka.com