Dallaire Senator?
"They didn’t die as soldiers. They were murdered"

Lt. Thierry Lotin, leader of a 10-man Belgian patrol, shouted into the radio: "We've been disarmed and taken I don't know where. Two of my men are being beaten. Colonel, they're going to lynch us!" That was the last communication received from Lotin. Before long, all 10 would be dead - beaten, stabbed, hacked, shot and mutilated by Rwandan soldiers in a frenzy of hatred toward the Belgian U.N. peacekeepers.

Three years later, Sandrine Lotin, widow of the 29-year-old lieutenant, still wants to know why her husband died in that far-away African land. So do the families of the other nine men. So does much of Belgium. "I could understand my husband dying on a mission," says Mrs. Lotin, who was pregnant at the time. "But they didn't die as soldiers. They were murdered."

A special committee of the Belgian Senate is holding hearings on the Belgians' deaths on April 7, 1994, the day when Rwanda erupted in an orgy of bloodletting by Hutu extremists. Within weeks, at least a half-million Rwandans were dead, most of them minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Belgians want to know why U.N. peacekeepers made no effort to rescue Lotin's patrol.

At one point, according to the committee, Maj. Gen. Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian commanding the U.N. force, drove within 20 yards of where the paratroopers were being held and saw blue-helmeted Belgian soldiers on the ground. Yet he did not stop. He did not radio or telephone his headquarters. The committee also is asking why the United Nations [Boutros Boutros-Ghali & Kofi Annan] and the governments of Belgium, France and the United States did not act on warnings passed along by Dallaire that Hutus were planning massacres and might try to provoke or even kill Belgian peacekeepers.

The drama began shortly after the death of Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana in a still unexplained plane crash on April 6, 1994. Lotin and his men were given orders about 2 a.m. the next day to take Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana to the radio station to make an appeal for calm. When the 10 peacekeepers arrived at the prime minister's house, soldiers of the Hutu army opened fire with rifles and grenades. After about two hours, the prime minister ignored Lotin’s advice and fled. She was caught and murdered.

A Hutu officer ordered the surrounded and outgunned Belgians to give up their weapons or be killed. Lotin's battalion commander, Lt. Col. Jo Dewez, authorized him by radio to do so. Lotin and his men were taken to a Rwandan military base, where an officer accused Belgian troops of shooting down the president's plane. Soldiers at the base went wild with machetes, bayonets and guns. Four of the paratroopers were cut down immediately. Lotin and the rest ran to a building, where another was trapped and killed. A Rwandan soldier tried to break into the room where the survivors barricaded themselves, but Lotin killed him with a pistol he had kept hidden and grabbed the soldier’s AK-47 rifle.

The Belgians held out with those two weapons for three hours, when grenades dropped into the room through the roof ended resistance. All the bodies were stripped of valuables and mutilated. Two weeks later, faced with a shocked and distraught nation, Belgium's government withdrew its 450-man battalion from the U.N. force in Rwanda. According to the Senate investigation, while Lotin's dwindling band was under attack at the base, Dallaire was on his way to a meeting at the Rwandan Ministry of Defense. "Passing in front of the entrance to Camp Kigali, Gen. Dallaire noticed the presence of some soldiers wearing Belgian uniforms lying on the ground," says a report by the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee. "He says he ordered the (Rwandan) driver to stop, but he refused on the pretext that the troops in the camp were out of control and they would be in danger."

The committee also is examining the actions of Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene, then Foreign Minister Willy Claes and then Defense Minister Leo Delcroix, who is still in Parliament. Sen. Alain Destexhe, a driving force behind the inquiry, says dozens of telexes, documents and reports show the Rwandan bloodshed should not have been a surprise. He cites in particular a Jan. 11 telex Dallaire sent to U.N. headquarters in New York outlining details from a Rwandan informant.

The telex said the informant, a top-level member of the ruling party's militia, the Interahamwe, had been ordered to register all Tutsis in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital. “He suspects it is for their extermination,’’ Dallaire said in the telex. The telex also noted: "Belgian troops were to be provoked and if Belgian soldiers resorted to force a number of them were to be killed and thus guarantee Belgian withdrawal from Rwanda." Records released by the committee say Dallaire also met with the ambassadors of Belgium, the United States and France to pass along the informant's report.

Furthermore, a secret report from the Belgian intelligence service dated Feb. 2, 1994, claimed one of the main goals of the Hutu militia was "to target in particular Belgian soldiers participating in the (U.N.) mission to provoke the withdrawal of the Belgian detachment, which is considered the strongest element." "That's exactly what happened April 7," said Destexhe, whose committee has scheduled hearings to continue through the end of June.

In an appearance before the committee, Belgium's prime minister disclaimed any responsibility. "From the moment we put these troops at the disposition of the U.N., we put these troops under the orders of the U.N.," Dehaene said. "The safety of the soldiers is up to the U.N., not the Belgian government." Delcroix, the former defense minister, took a similar stance. "There was never any alarm sounded, neither from Kigali, nor at Evere (Belgian military headquarters), nor in New York, nor at Foreign Affairs during this period," he said. "Mr. Dallaire was the chief, not the Defense Ministry. The U.N. was responsible for the operation and the safety of the soldiers."

Mrs. Lotin and other family members believe Dallaire bears much of the responsibility. "He did not even give a phone call to tell somebody that his men were on the ground," said Mrs. Lotin. "You should have seen the letter he sent us. It was a monster of hypocrisy."

In response to an Associated Press request for an interview, Dallaire first asked that the questions be provided in writing, then declined to speak with a reporter or answer the questions. He also has not responded to requests from the Senate committee to testify. The families of the slain paratroopers feel they were treated badly by Belgian authorities. At first they were told only that their loved ones had been shot, but little else. Details only began to emerge a year later. "You have to see it in a larger context than your own personal pain," said Mrs. Lotin. She said sending troops on peacekeeping missions should be examined more carefully and perhaps controlled by legislation. And, if political responsibility can be determined for her husband's death, the guilty should resign, she said. "There has to be a recognition of fault. If we are one day to forgive, somebody has to stand before us and say 'I made a mistake'," she said. "Nobody has ever come to us to say I'm sorry."


Rwandan gets 20 years in genocide trial. NewEurope, July 14, 2007
A Belgian court has sentenced a former Rwandan army major to 20 years in prison for the murder of 10 Belgian peacekeepers and an undetermined number of Rwandan civilians at the start of the 1994 genocide. Bernard Ntuyahaga was earlier acquitted on two other charges of involvement in the murder of then Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana and killing civilians in the Butare district....The Belgian UN soldiers were killed a day after the Rwandan president’s plane was shot down on April 6, 1994, triggering the genocide by Hutu-led government forces and ethnic militias. Prosecutors said Ntuyahaga took the peacekeepers from the residence of the prime minister, whom they were trying to protect, and handed them over to fellow soldiers at a military camp in the capital Kigali, where they were beaten to death, shot or slain with machetes. The defense said Ntuyahaga was a political scapegoat, who had been passing the prime minister’s residence by chance and had given the Belgians a ride at their request....The killing of the peacekeepers triggered the pullout of UN forces, opening the way for the genocide to spread. "If Belgian troops had stayed (in Rwanda) we could have saved hundreds of thousands of people," Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt told the court in his testimony in May. Rwandans welcomed the Belgian court’s verdict. Theodore Simburudali, president of Ibuka, an umbrella body that groups genocide survivors, said: "The truth has come out, which we have always said. Those top military officials killed many of our people he deserves a big sentence."

Jackie Jura
~ an independent researcher monitoring local, national and international events ~
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