Twenty Years Ago Today: Genocide, Day Five

Don Bosco Technical School. Note the flags on the flowerpots - this was once a Belgian barracks. The shooting started after they left. Twenty years ago today, the International Committee of the Red Cross estimated that 20,000 people had already been killed, though it was hard to say how bad things were outside the capital. Thousands of killings went unreported. That's why so many of the horror stories of the genocide come from Kigali: there were outsiders there to witness them. Elsewhere, the witnesses either died or had good reason to keep their mouths shut.

Before the nightmare began, the UN commander Romeo Dallaire had predicted one part of the Hutu strategy to accomplish genocide. Belgian soldiers would be killed, forcing Belgium to withdraw its peacekeepers, leaving the Tutsi population with vastly less protection than it had. His predictions were ignored - and were now coming true. The killings had happened at the beginning of the genocide when 10 soldiers protecting Agathe Uwilingiyimana were killed, and Belgian forces were in the process of being withdrawn.

For the Tutsis sheltering at the Don Bosco Technical School, it could not have come at a worse time. The school had been used by Belgian soldiers as a barracks, and was still occupied - by them and 2,000 people sheltering there who thought that the soldiers from their former colonial master would protect them. Yet the Belgians weren't allowed to do so. They could shoot dogs harrying corpses in the streets outside the school, but not the growing numbers of Interahamwe militiamen converging on the site.

The killers were well aware of how many people were huddling inside. All that stopped them was the risk that the soldiers might be provoked if they moved to take the barracks. As they waited, they drank beer and chanted Hutu slogans, leaving the Tutsis inside terrified and begging the soldiers to stay.

The soldiers were ordered to the airport during the afternoon. The Interahamwe moved in. And the killing began. Hours later, the majority of those who had looked to Belgium and the UN for safety were dead.

There was some hope, though. The forces of the Rwandan Patriotic Front were making swift gains towards Kigali, and shutting down the genocide as they went. But this did nothing to slow the killings in the capital. The slaughter went on.