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Thursday, 23 June 2016

The other Rwandan Massacre: 20 Years on

Mulamba Jean Paul
An Australian soldier carrying a young Rwandan boy injured during the Kibeho massacre, Rwanda, 1995 [Photograph: George Gittoes]

The 1994 Rwandan genocide was one of the most horrifying events of the 20th Century. But many are unaware of another massacre the following year. Australian Author Paul Jordon and filmmaker George Gittoes witnessed the brutality.

Twenty years ago, on April 22, thousands of unarmed civilians were killed by Rwandan soldiers at the Kibeho Internally Displaced Persons Camp (IDP) in the south of Rwanda.
A small team of 32 Australian Defence Force personnel were the only western troops to witness the massacre.

It is admittedly one the worst carnages Australian troops have been exposed to since the Second World War.

Australian author Paul Jordan was there.

He was one of the highly trained elite SAS forces deployed in Rwanda at the time.

“We arrived as part of the second contingent in February 1995. We took up residence at the hospital and started providing care for those who were injured.”

Kibeho was the last and the biggest Internally Displaced People's camp remaining in Rwanda after the 1994 genocide.

Outnumbered by the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) and unable to intervene in virtue of their UN mandate, the small Australian contingent deployed extraordinary courage in an effort to save lives.

The Australian Defence force was providing medical support to the United Nations Assistance Mission to Rwanda (UNAMIR) following the Rwandan Genocide.

Jordan’s section was tasked to support and protect a small Australian Medical Team sent to the Kibeho IDP which was about to be closed.

“We were then told in April that the camp at Kibeho was to be closed. And our job was to go there and document those who might be injured; provide care where we could while people were being repatriated to their villages.”

Deadly motives of the 'repatriation operation'

Behind the official IDP repatriation operation that started on the 18th of April 1995 and ended tragically on the 22nd of April 1995, there was another unspecified agenda.

Earlier this month George Gittoes was awarded the 2015 Sydney Peace Prize in recognition for, amongst other things, his courage to witness and confront violence in the war zones of the world.

Australian activist and war artist George Gittoes has been awarded the 2015 Sydney Peace Prize. (AAP)

A seasoned investigative documentary maker, Gittoes was on a mission to document the deployment of Australian forces in Rwanda.

He had learned about the other possible motives of the Kibeho IDP repatriation operation.

“They did it in a grotesque way. They’d shoot them in the leg and then they’d laugh at them and then watch them trying to get up and eventually put a bullet in their head or somewhere fatal.”

“Before I left Kigali I had been briefed on the likelihood that there would be a retaliatory massacre at Kibeho. So I came in very aware and alert.

“I came with the Australian infantry soldiers who were supporting a medical team setting up a field hospital run by Captain Carol Vaughan Evans.”

It wasn’t long before Gittoes witnessed the other aspect of the "repatriation operation".
“The first sign was watching the RPA clear the villages and hills around it. People being forced out and as they ran… they were made to run, they would shoot them."

He says the RPA were ruthless in their execution.

“They did it in a grotesque way. They’d shoot them in the leg and then they’d laugh at them and then watch them trying to get up and eventually put a bullet in their head or somewhere fatal.”

Completely surrounded by heavily armed and trigger happy RPA troops, the people in the camp had nowhere to run.

And as Jordan recalls, armed militias within the camp were also busy doing their own killing.

“The Rwandans had machine guns, they had mortars, and all set up to mow these people down; which they did.

“And while this was going on, there were also people running within these poor people with machetes and other weapons killing them from within as well. So these displaced persons were being hit from both sides; from the army and from militias from within the camp.”

Attempts to stop the killings

In the midst of this carnage one would wonder whether there were any attempts to intercede.

Jordan says that there were numerous initiatives from Australian forces and other parties to stop the killings.

“It was coming from the UN and it was coming from our command element. And we had one signaller who spent his entire time on that radio maintaining communications and reporting exactly what was going on.

“But it was also our officers within our small group who were pleading with the Rwandan Patriotic Army officers, a major in particular, that this had do stop.”

But their calls fell on deaf ears.

“It was to the point where there was a set of horrible circumstances and some of the events leading up to the events where… displaced persons who knew that things were going bad and would make a run for it.

“And one or two soldiers would give chase. Rwandan Patriotic Army soldiers would give chase, fire a few shots, wing this poor guy and then proceed to bayonet him to death.”

He says there were endless efforts to stop the killings but often it was too late.

“There are countless incidents that took place where innocent people were murdered and executed in front of us and you know not only myself but everybody who was involved in those couple of days stood up to Rwandan soldiers and said no."

"There are countless incidents that took place where innocent people were murdered and executed in front of us and you know not only myself but everybody who was involved in those couple of days stood up to Rwandan soldiers and said no.

“If we were given the opportunity we did that and often we were successful but sometimes you just weren't there on time.”

Faced with mounting casualties and a situation of total helplessness there was increased pressure on the Australian Medical team to leave Kibeho altogether.

But, in true Anzac spirit, the small team decided to continue their mission of saving IDP's lives despite their own being at risk.

Gittoes recalled those moments of extraordinary courage.

"The RPA commander came and said to Carol Vaughan Evans you can’t go back we are going to finish them all. So they would kill the people that the Australians had been treating.

“Carol made an amazing decision. She said no we are going back. So with the heavy machine gun fire it seemed that all the Australians could have been killed in the process of trying to save all these people.

“They had been attached to them. They went back and got them and helped them. This meant tripping through razor wire and stuff … Trying to get people out and bullets flying everywhere.”

Counting the casualties

At the end of more than four days of killings the counting of casualties was to become one of the most controversial events surrounding the United Nations mission in Rwanda.

Jordan and his team were asked to count the victims for the United Nations

“I was charged by the UN along with another officer to take half a section of infantry and move around each side of the camp and count the dead bodies. This took place the day after the massacre. You know we walked along with pace counters and we counted everybody that we found.”

They provided a partial tally of more than 4000 victims.

But the Rwandan government disputed this figure and came up with its own figure of 338 people killed in four days of unabated killings.

Human Right organisations and many scholars believe the tally is much higher. Their figures vary between 10,000 and 15,000 people killed in a matter of four days.

Jordon has his own account.

“I recognise that by being there and bearing witness to what had taken place they would have to kill all of us … to clear that evidence from their slate.

“Or, they had to stop what they were doing. And they didn't kill 12,000 people. I believe the count was somewhere between 4,000 and 10,000. And I would say closer to 10,000."


Mulamba Jean Paul / Author & Editor

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