UN 'hampered' efforts to prevent Rwanda genocide

The commander of the United Nations mission in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide on Tuesday accused his superiors of denying him permission to raid caches of weapons that three months later were used in the slaughter of up to a million people, mainly Tutsis.

Independent Hirondelle news agency reported that retired Canadian general Romeo Dallaire told the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda that his superiors had responded negatively to a cable he sent on January 11 1994, in which he asked permission to raid arms caches across the Central African country.

Carefully laid plans to rid Rwanda of its Tutsi minority were set in motion three months later, following the April 6 assassination of president Juvenal Habyarimana.

The inaction of the UN and international community in the run-up to and during the genocide has been widely criticised since 1994 and has formed the subject of several books, including one Dallaire published last year entitled Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda.

Dallaire, on his second day in the witness box, said he was told raiding arms caches was not part of the mandate of the UN assistance mission in Rwanda. The mission’s task was to oversee peace accords signed the previous year between the government and a Tutsi rebel group, the Rwandan Patriotic Front, he was told.

At the time, Kofi Annan, now UN Secretary General, was in charge of the UN’s peacekeeping department.

“I was surprised, disappointed,” Dallaire said.

Dallaire is a witness for the prosecution in the trial of Theoneste Bagosora, a senior defence minister official at the time whom Dallaire testified on Monday had enjoyed de facto control of Rwanda after Habyarimana’s death and whom the prosecution has branded the mastermind of the genocide.

Bagosora is being tried jointly with three other senior officers in the now-disbanded Rwandan Armed Forces—operations chief General Gratien Kabiligi, regional commander Lieutenant-Colonel Anatole Nsengiyumva and a commander of a paramilitary battalion based in Kigali, Major Aloys Ntabakuze.

Dallaire also testified that he had received reports of the regular army training militia groups and distributing arms across Rwanda ahead of the genocide.

He said foreigners supervised the training alongside Rwandan officers, without identifying their nationality.

“These people were trained to be able to kill 1 000 Tutsis in 20 minutes,” said Dallaire, citing an informant who said the training was part of a plan to exterminate Tutsis, which involved senior civilian and military officials including Bagosora.

The militias, known as Interahamwe, did most of the killing during the genocide, which over the course of 100 days claimed the lives of up to a million Tutsis and Hutus opposed to the slaughter.

On Monday, Dallaire testified that Bagosora seemed to have been plotting a coup after Habyarimana’s death, had appeared very at ease during the massacres and had twice threatened to kill him.

“The former chief of Cabinet [of the defence minister, Bagosora] was slow and untouched by what was going on. He seemed to be totally on another planet, carrying on with his activities,” Dallaire told the court.

The first time he met Bagosora, Dallaire tried to arrange the evacuation of orphaned children from the Rwandan capital, Kigali.

“It was a very confrontational meeting where Bagosora threatened me with his pistol and told me: ‘The next time I see you, I’ll kill you’,” said Dallaire.

“With his usual mad fury, he again threatened to kill me towards the end of June or in early July,” he said.—Sapa-AFP

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