January 8, 2020

Tracing Mass Grave Being Exhumed at Airport Near Rwanda-DR Congo Border

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Local officials helping with the exhumation currently ongoing at the Rubavu district airport. The bornes are sorted and separated from items like clothing. After it is confirmed they are genocide victims, they will be laid to rest at a local genocide memorial site

On Saturday January 4, workers undertaking expansion works at a small government airport in Rubavu district were shocked when they began digging up human remains.

Work was halted immediately and officials called in. IBUKA, the genocide survivors umbrella organization, issued a statement on Sunday in which it was sending out a call to anyone with information about what happened at this airport in 1994.

On Tuesday, exhumation began at the site and by evening, remains of 28 victims had been exhumed. Local officials are leading the process at the site now cordoned off.

As with such cases elsewhere, exhumations have found hundreds of victims. They will find bornes and the last possessions that the victims had when they were killed and buried.

But even before the exhumation is completed, Rwandan exiles, linked to government of Rwanda before the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, are claiming the remains are for “Hutus” killed by the RPF. This narrative has been advanced for years whenever a new mass grave is found.

However, for the Rubavu site, there are established facts that have not been disputed, which can explain what happened at this airport. Rubavu district, previously Gisenyi prefecture, borders DR Congo. The airport is located a few kilometers from the border.

As the RPF rebels led by Gen Paul Kagame advanced and the genocide against Tutsis continued since April 1994, the retreating government forces stationed in the infamous zone Turquoise, controlled by French soldiers, in southwestern Rwanda.

To the northwestern region, some members of retreating government were based in Gisenyi.

In mid-June 1994, the French government in Paris approved entry into Rwanda of its 2500 troops stationed across in Zaire on Thursday June 23. The first troops crossed into Cyangugu town.

In Paris, within hours the military headquarters announced three mass graves were found by the advancing commandos. But the discovery of the mass graves was mentioned in single sentences from the barrage of news stories which were concentrating on the troop deployment.

Government’s RTLM hate radio reported on the same day from Gisenyi – up north – that the French soldiers had come to “help us fight the RPF”. The broadcaster also said the French would be providing weapons. It called on “Hutu girls” (abakobwa b’abahutu) to put on frocks to welcome the French.

Exhumation ongoing at the site

French academic and historian Gérard Prunier has documented rare details leading up to the decision to deploy French commandos to Rwanda.

During the same period, according to Prunier, in a less publicized move, French officers visited the “interim government” at Hotel Meridien in Gisenyi. They delivered supplies and military equipment.

The commander of the retreating former government troops Maj Gen Augustin Bizimungu declared from Gisenyi in reports from the time that his forces would launch an offensive against RPF. They controls Gisenyi and the airport for 3 months.

All the while, the genocide against Tutsi had been stopped in RPF-controlled areas, but continued in western part. Kagame’s forces declared taking over much of the country on July 4, and a new government of national unity was formed on July 19.

The defeated government and its forces stationed in eastern Congo, continued attacks into Rwanda up until late 1999.

At the site being exhumed at the airport in Rubavu, even after witnesses come out to confirm the victims are Tutsis, – the exiled groups as it has happened with previous exhumations, will never stop claiming the victims were killed by RPF soldiers despite the undisputed evidence showing otherwise.

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