Rwandans should draw lessons from the bravery of the people of Bisesero who put up a famous resistance against the Interahamwe militia and former FAR soldiers during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, the defence minister has said.
James Kabarebe was Monday addressing mourners at Bisesero Genocide memorial in Karongi District as part of the ongoing activities to mark the Genocide for the 23rd time.
Bisesero memorial is home to between 50,000 and 60,000 victims of the Genocide.
Many victims and survivors in Bisesero are credited with putting up resistance against the marauding militia and then government forces in 1994, which saw them subdue several attacks on them before they were lured from their hideout by French troops and subsequently overpowered by the militia.
Of the approximately 60,000 people who bravely challenged the attackers for weeks on Muyira Hill, only about 1,200 survived.
Bisesero literary became a battlefield as Tutsi pushed back heavily armed Interahamwe militia backed by ex-FAR.
Armed with only stones and traditional weapons, some of which had been confiscated from the attackers, the Tutsi in Bisesero managed to hold back the militia for weeks until the Interahamwe received reinforcements.
Soldiers, gendarmes, and militiamen from other parts of the country such as then Cyangugu, Ruhengeri and Gisenyi prefectures were brought in and finally subdued the Bisesero fighters, according to survivors’ accounts.
Addressing thousands of mourners, Kabarebe urged Rwandans, especially the youth, to draw a lesson of heroism and resilience from the Bisesero people who, despite fighting with armed people with external support particularly from French army, managed to defend themselves and died doing so.
“Bisesero has its own unique history, first the exemplary heroism and resilience of the people here, including refusal to merely look on as they were being hacked to death,” he said, adding that many could have survived had they not been betrayed by the French soldiers.
The French troops were deployed in the area as part of the so-called humanitarian mission, which, as several reports have since indicated, instead of saving those that were being killed, provided an escape corridor to the militia as they crossed the border into DR Congo (then Zaire) following their defeat by RPA.
Kabarebe told the mourners in Bisesero that survivors will continue to receive support during and after the ongoing commemoration period and hailed Rwandans for working hard to rebuild their country.
He also praised Rwandans for their firm stand against genocide ideology and denial and urged unwavering commitment to the cause.
The defence minister called on Rwandans to seize the opportunity and help build on the progress registered thus far to ensure a brighter future.
Eric Nzabihimana, 54, one of the few survivors from the Muyira Hill attack, was among those that put up resistance.
He gave a testimony of the attacks on the thousands of Tutsi that had converged on the hills of Bisesero; thus:
“We resisted the attacks from Interahamwe for the entire month of April. Our (resistance) leaders told us to, first of all, protect and secure women and children, and then our animals. They encouraged us to not fear even those that had guns.
We fought for the whole month of April and in the first ten days of May, the attacks stopped and we thought it was the end of our troubles. Little did we know that they were simply reorganising to launch a more vicious attack.
On May 13, armed people combed all the hills of Bisesero, killing everyone and that day; we lost over 20,000 people.
The following day, they (Interahamwe and then government soldiers) came and killed so many others, they killed women, men and children, these hills were full of bodies.
Days after, we were attacked again and defended ourselves until we captured one officer at the rank of lieutenant alive; we wanted to send a message that we would not fear even the people with guns because they were more dangerous.
We later resolved to mix with Interahamwe to confuse the attackers. We continued fighting until we got very weak, the majority were killed, others were injured and the remaining few were exhausted and hungry.
On June 27, French soldiers came and during an encounter I had with them, they encouraged us to come out (of our hiding) but later after we had come out, they said we should remain calm and they left the place promising us that we would be safe and that they would come later to pick us.
They never returned and instead two days later, Interahamwe and ex-FAR soldiers attacked, this time with precise knowledge of where we were hiding and many were slaughtered in terrifying ways.
The French came back the following day, on June 30, and this time they asked the few remaining survivors to choose between being helped to flee to Zaire (along with the Interahamwe and the rest of the genocidal machinery) or to cross over to the zone controlled by the RPF-Inkotanyi, who had by now subdued the militia.
Of course, we rushed to the RPF side and from that time the French stopped giving us food rations. A few days later the RPF took us to a safer zone.”