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France-Rwanda battle is "David and Goliath" - say survivors

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Kigali: The French government is hitting back with furry after Rwanda accused its army and 33 former senior officials for Genocide But the survivors of the carnage are counting down the days when the culprits will face judges, RNA reports.

The 500-page report alleges France took part in the preparations and the execution of the Genocide, in which more than a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were massacred in just 100-days.

“I feel very bitter that nobody does seem to even care – even now that this report has been made public”, says Jeanne – aged 15 in June 1994, who was raped in a tent in a stadium of Western Rwanda’s town of Cyangugu.

She told RNA: “I lost my innocence to men I did not have any idea who they were and now all that the French government can give back is rubbish all the evidence against its soldiers.

“Recently I heard that they want to arrest our people.  For whatever they accused them, at least they did not rape children like their own soldiers”.

Jeanne is not alone to have faced the horrifying experience where French soldiers manning the Zone ordered militias to bring them women – but preferred younger girls, according to one militia member that testified to the Mucyo commission.

During the public hearings by the commission, numerous girls aged 12 and 14 in 1994 have narrated experiences of gruesome rape and abuse by French soldiers in Cyangugu stadium where the soldiers had camped.

“I was brought by Interahamwes to the stadium as they beat me and ‘white soldiers dressed in military uniform’ were there - one pulled me by hand and took me into a tent - as I resisted - he slapped me hard - he tore my skirt off - force my legs wide and penetrated me”, then 12-year-old Witness 17 - narrated breaking down.

“I felt as if a metal was penetrating me - the pain was so much - I screamed so hard but nobody was helping me - I was bleeding - I felt it would be better if I died - he finished raping me and moved out”, she narrated behind curtains.

The young lady said with all the pain, she crawled out of the tent and stadium, and hid in near-by bush as the Interahamwe rampaged. According to her, there were other minors being raped in other tents in the stadium by French soldiers.

This apparently happened around the months of June or July. As the lady explained, by this time as the “white solders” had begun arriving so the hiding victims believed the killing was over and started coming out.

Instead, as it had been narrated by almost all the previous witnesses, the Interahamwe were actually working with the French soldiers who had come in the name of “protecting civilians”.

Like Witness 18 who testified for about 10 minutes, the next - aged 14 in 1994 as the French were camped in the same stadium was abused by French soldier terribly that, as she explained with difficulty, she “lost breath” and ferociously bled.

“Huge white soldier”

According to Witness 18, she was discovered with a friend by the rampaging Interahamwe militia as they (girls) searched for food because they had hid for “too long without food”. Her other older friend apparently managed to escape leaving the young girl helpless. She was taken to the Stadium by 2 militiamen, and as she narrated - her ordeal had just started.

“We believed we were safe after the war was ending and we had seen whites (bazungu) claiming to have come to protect us- we knew everything was ok”, she said, eventually holding her breath for some seconds and continued - “I was wrong - my suffering was just going to start”.

“In the stadium Kamarampaka, the Interahamwe took me there directly and there were many ‘white soldiers’ all over - I was put in a room of the tent just near-by and the next thing - a huge white soldier entered and closed the tent closure and undressed”, Witness 18 said.

As she explained, the “huge white soldier” lifted her and threw her on a mattress by the side as she tried to fight him off. “I was very small - he just lifted me like a baby ripped off my cloths and he started raping me”.

“The pain was terrible - I screamed till I lost my breath - I was bleeding profusely - then he changed and penetrated me through ‘my mouth’”, she told the commission amidst silence as some among the small audience seemed to hold back tears.

She said the “white man” in military uniform dumped her outside by the side of the tent and went on with his business. What is clear is that the girls called the French soldiers “white” because they were very young.

Only young ones

The Interahamwe carried her away by her arms dumping her outside the stadium - only to be taken away by an “old lady” - later who cared for her for “2 weeks” as she could not move herself.

According to Witness 16 a militiaman of Cyangugu around April and May 1994, who came in first, the militias were required to look for girls and take them to the stadium for the French soldiers.

He told the commission that he had witnessed a girl aged “around 14” being raped by one half-naked French soldier as two others helped hold the victim. Strangely, according to the former militia who said he “often worked” with the French soldiers, other soldiers were barely 2 meters “going on with business as usual”.

However, as explained, he “never” brought any girls for the French but instead would come to exchange money for them because he was a money-changer at the Rusisi I border-post leading into Zaire (D R Congo). But concurrently as he continued with his job, he also massacred “Tutsis”- who as he said had been encouraged to “wipe-out” by patrolling French soldiers and one - Colonel Simba –at UN court in Tanzania.

Witness 16 also revealed to the commission that French soldiers help “Roger son of Col. Simba” by grabbing cars from anybody - giving them to him to sell in Bukavu. After the cars more than 100 had been sold, Roger and Witness 16 had to hand the money to French soldiers - only to be given a commission of 100 Francs for each car.

Witness 16 was later to flee into DRC along with thousands including the genocidal government officials, Interahamwe, ex-FAR and civilians to prepare for an unsuccessful campaign of return into Rwanda. He and thousands other fled into Congo-Brazzaville only to end up on Gabon and was repatriated to Rwanda.

He also told the Mucyo Commission that then rebel leader Sassou Nguessou (Congo-Brazzaville) conscripted more than 1700 ex-FAR soldiers to fight against the government with the help of French soldiers.

Genocide crimes will remain

The publication of a damning report has galvanised survivors, who want to see French officials brought to justice, but fear it will be a David and Goliath battle.

"Justice, unfettered justice, will one day be done. Power should not come with impunity," says Benoit Kaboyi, executive secretary of Ibuka, the main genocide survivors' organization.

"History shows that the road to justice is bumpy when genocide is involved, due to the complexity of the crime. It's complicated but not impossible," he said.

For Jeanne, she wonders whether Rwanda – ‘as small as it is’ – can stand up to France which is a world power.

“I have always dreamed that some day, somebody will have to answer to what they did to me. Even though the battle between France and Rwanda is like David and Goliath, ultimately Rwanda will prevail because it has the truth on its side.”

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