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Africa Confidential Volume 35 Number 8 – 15 April 1994

Rwanda: From coup to carnage

The horrific slaughter of some 20,000 Rwandans in one week was triggered by the shooting down of President Juvénal Habyarimana’s plane on which Burundian President Cyprien Ntarymira was, it seems, a chance passenger.

The signs are that the fatal attack was part of a coup attempt by Hutu extremists in the Garde Présidentielle (GP). The Mystère Falcon, sent to Habyarimana by the Elysée in the late 1980s with the encouragement of Jean-Christophe Mitterrand, was apparently downed by rockets France had supplied to the GP, say Paris sources. The GP barred United Nations’ troops from the wreckage.

With surprising speed on the evening of the 6 April attack, the GP, with lists ready, arrested or assassinated ministers (Premier Agathe Uwingiliyamana was killed) and thousands of Tutsi or Hutu dissidents. By Saturday, a Hutu-ultra government had been formed, with no Tutsi or credible opponent of Habyarimana’s. The team, seen as strongly anti-Tutsi, included ex-Chief of Staff Colonel Laurent Serebuga, Col. [Thomas] Bagosora, parliament speaker Théodore Sindikubwabo (head of state) and Jean Kabanda (Premier).

African diplomats say Habyarimana had told friends he was depressed and ready to quit after Tanzanian President Ali Hassan Mwinyi and Belgian Foreign Minister Willy Claes had told him to stop stalling on the Arusha peace accord with the Front Patriotique Rwandais (FPR). Arusha brings with it the largely Tutsi FPR, loss of privileges and massive army cuts: GP and allied ultras may have murdered Habyarimana to pre-empt his ‘capitulation’.

Believed to oppose Arusha were Serebuga, Ex-Gendarmerie Chief of Staff Col. Pierre-Célestin Rwagafilita (both unhappily retired, 1992), ex-GP Commander Lieutenant Col. Léonard Nkundiye, para-commando battalion head Major Aloys Ntabakuzé and Maj. Barantsaritsé, who stormed the Premier’s office in 1992.

Some suspect certain members of the President’s ‘inner circle’, the Akazu (little house) of involvement, even though an Akazu baron, presidential advisor and bother-in-law Col. Elie Sagatwa, died in the crash. He had sided with Habyarimana against the Akazu and ‘was seen as a traitor’, a Rwandan journalist told us from his Kigali hideout.
Another theory blames southern Hutu: Habyarimana was northern Hutu, from Bushiru Hill. This idea, strong in French circles, falls down as most elite and airport troops are northern. France, which solidly backed Habyarimana, intervening militarily to save him in 1992, first blamed the FPR for the attack.

It is unlikely to intervene now: troops had gone in only to rescue French people and if ‘absolutely necessary, to come to the help of Western and foreign nationals’, Cooperation Minister Michel Roussin told Africa Confidential. As the new government fled on 2 April as the FPR advanced on Kigali, there were signs that Paris is ready to talk to the FPR. As foreigners were evacuated, Rwandans were left to face the carnage.


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