Rwanda genocide: UN ashamed, says Ban Ki-moon

President Paul Kagame: "We did not need to experience genocide to become better people. It simply should never have happened"

The UN is still ashamed over its failure to prevent the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, UN chief Ban Ki-moon has said.

He was addressing thousands of people in the capital, Kigali, as Rwanda began a week of official mourning to mark the 20th anniversary of the genocide.

Many people were overcome by emotion during the ceremony, with some suffering fits.

At least 800,000 people - mostly ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus - died at the hands of Hutu extremists.

The killings ended ended in July 1994 when the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a Tutsi-led rebel movement, marched into Kigali and seized control of the country.

Rwanda's President Paul Kagame and Mr Ban lit a torch which will burn for 100 days - the length of time the genocide lasted.

A woman is helped out of the Amahoro stadium, in Kigali, on April 7,2014, during a ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of Rwanda's genocide. The emotions and memories were too much for some of the crowd to bear

A diplomatic row has prompted Rwanda to bar France's ambassador, Michel Flesch, from attending the event, AFP news agency reports.

At the scene

It began with just one, and then scores of chilling screams echoed around the stadium.

It may be 20 years down the line, but for many here, the wounds are still too fresh to bear. Paramedics went up and down the terraces, comforting and removing those who could not cope with the memories. I saw one man being carried out during the dramatisation of the recent history of Rwanda.

The play itself was a very clear depiction of the government's interpretation of what caused the tragic episode in the country's history.

Half-way through, a jeep drove in carrying the "colonialists" who marched onto the stage. They swapped their colonial straw hats for the blue helmets of the UN and then deserted the people, leaving a bloodbath in their wake. Soldiers - representing the governing RPF - troop in to rescue a devastated population.

The week of mourning began with a wreath-laying ceremony at the national genocide memorial, followed by the lighting of a flame at the Amahoro Stadium in Kigali, where UN peacekeepers protected thousands of people during the genocide.

The torch has been carried across the country for the past three months, visiting 30 districts and passing from village to village.

Thousands of people packed the stadium, having queued for hours through the fog, reports the BBC's Charlotte Attwood from the scene.

Many of them reacted with uncontrollable emotion to the stories, speeches and performances recalling the genocide, our correspondent says.

Some of them had to be led out of the stadium while others had fits, she adds.

Traditional mourning songs were broadcast over the sound systems.

There was also a dramatisation of Rwanda's recent history, which our correspondent says was a clear depiction of the government's interpretation of events.

In the play, a jeep carrying "colonialists" arrives, who swap their straw hats for UN blue helmets. They then desert the people, who are saved by the governing RPF.

'Completely broken'

UN personnel in Rwanda during the genocide showed "remarkable bravery", Mr Ban told the crowd, according to AP.

"But we could have done much more. We should have done much more," he said.

"In Rwanda, troops were withdrawn when they were most needed," he added.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon light a memorial flame at a ceremony in Kigali to mark the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide (7 April 2014) President Paul Kagame and UN chief Ban Ki-moon lit the torch
Performers enter Amahoro Stadium during the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the 1994 genocide April 7, 2014 in Kigali, Rwanda. Tributes were paid to those who were killed
Performers recreate the killings And there was a recreation of the slaughter
Crowds in the stadium Thousands attended the ceremonies in the Amahoro Stadium, where UN peacekeepers saved many lives
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, left, and Former South African President Thabo Mbeki, right, lay a memorial wreath at a ceremony in Kigali to mark the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide (7 April 2014) Tony Blair and Thabo Mbeki were among the foreign guests

"One year later in Srebrenica, areas proclaimed 'safe' by the United Nations were filled with danger, and innocents were abandoned to slaughter. The shame still clings, a generation after the events," Mr Ban said.

100 days of slaughter

  • 6 April 1994: President Habyarimana dies in plane crash
  • 7 April: Rwandan armed forces and militia start killing of Tutsis and moderate Hutus
  • 7 April: Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) rebels resume offensive
  • 11 April: Red Cross says tens of thousands have already died
  • 17 May: UN Security Council says acts of genocide have been committed but no reinforcements sent
  • 22 May: RPF controls Kigali airport
  • 22 June: Killing of Tutsis continues in "safe" area despite presence of French troops
  • 4 July: RPF controls Kigali

Mr Kagame said Rwanda was "completely broken" after the genocide, but it had managed to unite itself.

"It [the genocide] simply should never have happened," he added.

Other international leaders present include Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni, former South African President Thabo Mbeki and former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, now an advisor to the Rwandan government.

On Sunday, hundreds of people attended a Mass at Sainte-Famille Catholic church in Kigali to remember those who died in the church itself and elsewhere.

A spokesman for the Rwandan government said France would not be represented at the events to mark the genocide.

Mr Flesch told AFP that he had received a telephone call from the Rwandan foreign ministry to "inform me that I was no longer accredited for the ceremonies".

BBC news reports recall how the genocide unfolded

Earlier, the French foreign ministry said Mr Flesch would represent France at the events after Justice Minister Christiane Taubira cancelled plans to attend following an accusation by Mr Kagame that France had participated in the mass killings.

France was a close ally of Mr Habyarimana's government.

In an interview with the French-language weekly news magazine Jeune Afrique, Mr Kagame denounced the "direct role of Belgium and France in the political preparation for the genocide".

He also said that French troops had taken an "active" part in the killings.

This file picture taken 27 June 1994 shows French soldiers on patrol passing ethnic Hutu troops from the Rwandan government forces, near Gisenyie. During the genocide, French troops set up supposedly "safe zones" in Rwanda, but the killing continued

France has rejected this charge, with Edouard Balladur, who was French prime minister in 1994, telling Europe 1 radio: "France is in no way complicit in the genocide.

"On the contrary, it of all countries in the world was the only one that took the initiative to organise a humanitarian operation to prevent widespread massacres."

France did send troops who set up "safe zones" in Rwanda. It says they saved thousands of lives but Rwanda's government has long said they did not do enough to stop the killing - and now says they worked with the Hutu militias carrying out the slaughter.

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