null by MICHAEL O. ALLEN, Daily News Staff Writer | Tuesday, July 26, 1994

GOMA, Zaire – The skies here were darkened by aircraft yesterday bearing desperately needed food and medical supplies to Rwandan refugees dying at a rate of one per minute in the squalid camps below.

But the water purifiers needed to combat the raging cholera epidemic did not arrive until nightfall.

So with no way to cleanse the filthy water of disease, 1,400 refugees died yesterday on day six of an epidemic that has cut through the crowded camps like a scythe.

By nightfall the death tally from the epidemic had risen to 14,000, and relief workers had started burning bodies because there was nowhere to bury them.

A mass grave the size of a football field dug into the soft earth on the outskirts of Goma was full. French troops farther down the road were using explosives to blow holes in volcanic rock while hundreds of rotting corpses piled up nearby.

United Nations officials, fearing the death toll could reach 80,000, yesterday asked the United States to launch a military-type operation to distribute aid.

“It is out of control,” said Peter Hansen, a top UN relief official. “We don’t have the capacity to deal With thiS.”

Last night, on the muddy road that leads from the Goma airport to the refugee camp at Katali, the dead were wrapped in mats and stacked like logs.

Bodies are so dense by the roadside that some bear tire marks. Dogs and people could be seen scavenging among the corpses.

“We are all dying,” said one refugee who gathered up his children yesterday and started to walk home. “It is better to be killed in Rwanda.”

Continue reading “SPECIAL REPORT ON RWANDA: 1 Dies Every Minute”

RWANDAN CRISIS-HORROR OF THE CHILDREN: Thousands Are Dying, More Are Orphaned


by MICHAEL O. ALLEN, Daily News Staff Writer | Wednesday, July 27, 1994

GOMA. ZAIRE – Her tiny torso was wrapped in dirty rags. No one knew her name, where she came from or what became of her parents. She could not have been more than 6 months old.

Last week French soldiers at Goma airport handed the baby to Florence Nirere, a 15-year old Rwandan refugee whose parents were killed fleeing tribal warfare in their homeland.

Nirere had no food, but she struggled to keep the child alive by giving her water.

Yesterday, Nirere frantically shook the tot limb-by-limb as I rode with them in a truck to a refugee orphanage at Camp Carea. She checked her mouth and eyes, looking for any sign of life.

“The baby is dead,” Nirere finally announced, as she dropped the infant’s lifeless arm.

I stared at Nirere’s skirt, which was caked with dirt from a three-month trek.

The dirt was mixing with a sickening yellow fluid that oozed from the baby as its short life expired.

Nirere and the dead baby were among 24 orphans crammed into the truck yesterday as it bounced along the dirt road.

Clad in filthy rags and weakened from hunger, heartbreak and illness, the children stared listlessly. Most seemed oblivious to the shroud of death around them.

Thousands of Rwanda’s children will die anonymous deaths, nameless victims of illness and civil war.

Continue reading “RWANDAN CRISIS-HORROR OF THE CHILDREN: Thousands Are Dying, More Are Orphaned”

Refugees Are Dying Too Fast to be Buried


 by GENE MUSTAIN in New York and MICHAEL O. ALLEN in Goma, Zaire, Daily News Staff Writers | Wednesday July 27, 1994

Aid workers battling death, famine and pestilence of the Rwanda refugee crisis faced a new problem yesterday–a shortage of graves.

The raging cholera epidemic in the squalid camps near the border backwater town of Goma, Zaire, continued to claim lives faster than mass graves could be dynamited out of the volcanic rock blanketing the area.

As planeloads of international relief supplies began arriving, burial teams — including a Zairian boy scout troop — collected 2,000 bodies. And aid workers feared that 20,000 may have died since 1.2 million Rwandans fled to Zaire a week ago.

But gravesites were full, and hundreds of rotting bodies were left in foul-smelling piles along the roads. Aid workers held back on announced plans to burn corpes because cremation runs counter to African traditions.

“The burning issue, as it were, is a last resort,” said Ray Wilkinson, a United Nations spokesman. “One problem, as you may guess, is that it’s hard to find anyone willing to undertake the grisly task.”

About 75 American soldiers and a number of civilian experts began operating water purification equipment yesterday, but relief workers fear that thousands more refugees will die before enough equipment is on hand.

“Our top priority is clean water, because without it more people are going to die in droves,” Brig. Gen. Jack Nix said after landing at Goma’s airport.

Continue reading “Refugees Are Dying Too Fast to be Buried”

A Hell Without Fire

null by MICHAEL O. ALLEN, Daily News Staff Writer | Thursday, July 28, 1994

GOMA, Zaire – The heart of darkness lies beneath a smoky volcano.

It starts at the edge of a shimmering lake and stretches across a few miles of flowering bushes and dark rocky plain, proof of Mount Nyiragongo’s periodic tantrums.

It would be a beautiful reminder of nature’s capacity to uplift, if it were not the epicenter of the Rwandan refugee crisis – a man-made calamity of monumental misery.

Now it is hell without the fire – a place where children die without pity and men cry without shame.

“It is just so horrible, I can’t explain it,” a relief worker, Noel McDonough, said as he gave a Daily News reporter a lift into the teeming refugee encampments outside outside this border outpost earlier this week.

It was early in the morning, still dark, but light enough to see bodies piled beside the road, dead from hunger or untreated wounds or the cholera epidemic sweeping through Goma with the fury of a Colorado brushfire.

“These people are being wiped out,” he said, “wiped out.”

Continue reading “A Hell Without Fire”

WEST HIT ON RWANDA: Relief Big Calls Response Weak

null by MICHAEL O. ALLEN in Nairobi and RICHARD SISK in Washington, Daily News Staff Writers | Friday, July 29, 1994

United Nations relief officials lashed out yesterday at what they viewed as the timid, pinch-penny response of the U.S. and its allies to the desperate plight of Rwanda’s refugees.

All member states of the UN must share the blame, but among the Western allies, “many are worried about their budgets. They think it costs too much,” said Peter Hansen, the UN’s undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs.

“Some are worried about being dragged into something where they might get hurt, there might be trouble and, “Gee, what if another soldier gets shot?’ ” Hansen said in a reference to U.S. reluctance to become involved after suffering casualties in Somalia.”

Hansen, who spoke in Nairobi after returning from a fact-finding mission to Rwanda and Zaire with international aid groups, described scenes of suffering and macabre indifference.

The human tragedy brought on by the flight of more than a million Rwandan refugees to the border town of Goma, Zaire, also has triggered resentment among local Zairians, who have demonstrated in recent days to protest the burden on their scarce resources.

“You have heard of different ways people set up roadblocks? In Goma, they made roadblocks with corpses. That was what was most easily available to the people in Goma,” Hansen said.

However, in Washington, Gen. John Shalikashvili, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, insisted that the U.S. was doing all that was possible to fight the cholera epidemic killing nearly 2,000 dialy in the refugee camps.

He said the best way to wind down the crisis was to encourage the refugees to return home in safety.

“Time is of the essence. The greatest hope they have is to leave those camps,” Shalikashvili said, but “we don’t want to get into a situation where we are forcing them to go home.”

The general said the U.S. was considering targeted relief airdrops along routes back to Rwanda to give the refugees sustenance for the journey.

He would not say exactly how many U.S. troops might be involved in the humanitarian campaign–which is expected to be up to 4,000–because it still is “at a concept plan stage.”

Continue reading “WEST HIT ON RWANDA: Relief Big Calls Response Weak”

THE ROAD TO KIGALI: Rwandans Trickle Home

null Cholera prompts return

by MICHAEL O. ALLEN, Daily News Staff Writer | Sunday, July 31, 1994

RUBAVU, Rwanda – The road to Kigali yesterday was filled with frustration, anger, sickness and hope that this impoverished nation would step back from the abyss of ethnic hatred.

Rwandans, young and old, sick and healthy, were trickling back into the nation they fled more than three weeks ago. But the violence that has convulsed this impoverished nation stopped just short of taking another casualty yesterday.

Lt. Andrew Kalisa, an 11-year veteran of Rwanda’s Tutsi rebel movement, was nearly killed at a checkpoint because a young officer at the barricade did not recognize his superior out of uniform.

Kalisa, 25, was escorting a reporter and photographer to “Camp Cholera,” where Rwanda separates sick refugees so they don’t infect the healthy.

Kalisa and the young officer argued heatedly in Swahili, then the officer came by the passenger window, ordered Kallsa out of the car, then cocked his rifle.

Kalisa took him to a corner and gave him a stern lecture.

“He is from a new battallion,” he said when he returned.

Continuing on the road to the capital, there was Gisenyi, a border town showing all the scars of a ferocious battle. Burned-out hulks of vehicles were strewn about, along with clothing discarded as town residents fled for their lives.

Raymond Mugabo, 19, said he was in school when rebel forces routed the Rwandan army two weeks ago.

“We left Gisenyi at 4 a.m., he said. “I think 500 or more, a thousand perhaps, many people trying to cross the border. It was terrible.”

As a Hutu, Mugabo is ignoring the new Tutsi government’s appeal that the refugees return home. He fears that Tulsis– men like Kalisa–will be waiting at the other end of a machete to kill him.

Continue reading “THE ROAD TO KIGALI: Rwandans Trickle Home”

RETURNING TO RUINS: Rwandan Refugees Find War’s Debris


 by MICHAEL O. ALLEN, Daily News Staff Writer | Monday, August 1, 1994

KIGALI. Rwanda – Thousands of Rwandan refugees returning home yesterday from camps in Zaire found their towns torn up by civil war.

About 700 refugees riding into the capital in an United Nations truck convoy yesterday faced a city battered by three months of tribal warfare. Buildings were damaged. Streets were littered with wrecked cars. Water and
electricity were scarce. Gas stations were destroyed. And a rebel government that has no administration or civil servants was struggling to get the ravaged nation back on its feet.

As the convoy threads its way through Rwanda’s towns and villages, the refugees see that nearly every place where people once lived and farmed appears deserted. Shops are bombed out. If you get up close to some houses the smell of rotting invades your senses.

Though disease has killed thousands of refugees packed into filthy camps, most Rwandans too frightened to return home. Many are convinced the new Tutsi-led government in Kigali will kill returning Hutus to avenge the massacres of Tutsis by Hutu extremist forces.

To make matter worse, the refugees in camps in Zaire may soon face a second wave of epidemics more deadly than the cholera that kills hundreds of people daily, said Serge Male, the UN specialist in contagious diseases.

He said an inevitable dysentery outbreak could claim 20,000 to 40,000 lives among the more than 1 million refugees near Goma. Measles, malaria and meningitis also loom.

Continue reading “RETURNING TO RUINS: Rwandan Refugees Find War’s Debris”

Rwandan Leaders vow to punish ‘genocide’


by MICHAEL O. ALLEN, Daily News Staff Writer | Wednesday, August 3, 1994

KIGALI, Rwanda – Leaders of this war-ravaged nation yesterday said they will execute those responsible for the slaughter of up to 500,000 Rwandans in ethnic fighting.

“Those who willingly carried out genocide deserve no less than the death penalty,” Rwanda’s President Pasteur Bizimungu told the Daily News yesterday at his villa near the capital, Kigali.

“We need a fair and transparent justice as a pillar of the government of national unity,” he said. “We don’t want to wait two or three years before we start.”

Bizimungu said trials and executions must begin soon to avoid revenge atrocities.

Speaking from his makeshift office at the Meridien Hotel in Kigali yesterday, Prime Minister Faustin Twagiramungu agreed.

“We do not want to be involved in retribution, revenge reprisals. The law must be followed,” he said.

The former government and ousted Rwandan Army, which triggered the civil war in April, primarily were composed of radical, ruling class Hutus. The Hutus, however, were defeated by Tutsi rebels in the Rwandan Patriotic Front.

Bizimungu and Twagiramungu are moderate Hutus appointed by the Tutsi government. Among the issues causing a rift within the fledgling government is when elections will be held.

Asked by the Daily News yesterday when he would be putting himself up for election, Bizimungu became agitated.

“There has been a tragedy in our country,” he snapped. “If you were sensitive to our tragedy you would not be asking for an election.”

In sharp contrast, the bespectacled Twagiramungu smiled easily as he sat in his office yesterday. Room 529 was neat and furnished with a dining room table and four sofas arranged around a coffee table. It does not give the appearance that the business of governing a nation of seven million people is being conducted here.

But it was here Twagiramungu met with George Moose, the U.S. assistant secretary of African Affairs, and assured him he welcomes America’s help in the daunting task rebuilding the nation.

Yesterday, U.S. Army convoys delivered more than 100,000 gallons of water to Rwandan refugees, bolstering their chances of surviving in crowded, disease-infested camps in Zaire. But much more will be needed to defeat the cholera, dysentry and simple dehydration that have killed more than 20,000 people since the refugee crisis began two weeks ago.

Continue reading “Rwandan Leaders vow to punish ‘genocide’”

Envoy’s Search for Justice Shows Rwanda’s Dark Side

null by MICHAEL O. ALLEN, Daily News Staff Writer | Sunday, August 7, 1994

KIGALI, Rwanda–Sylvestre Kamali finally broke down.

Imprisoned for 21 days, he was tired, hurting and badly in need of a bath.

A career diplomat, he has served his country in all branches, including terms as vice president of the Supreme Court and ambassador to Belgium, Burundi and China.

Now Kamali was wearing the gray pants and white shirt he had on the day he was arrested in July. He was unshaven and had no shoes. He had not been given hismedication and special diet for a colon condition.

The tears came this day when he was told the new leaders of Rwanda are holding him on a charge of genocide. His jaw dropped. He looked at his two prisonguards and his face spread into a smile of incredulity.

“I am happy because now I know the reason why I am in prison,” the diplomat said in an interview with reporters from the Daily News and the Washington Postlast week. It was the first time he had been seen by people other than his jailers since his arrest in July.

In his native language, Kinyarwanda, as a prison guard translated, he said, “They told me my cars did not have all the proper papers.

“Me, Kamali?” he asked, shaking his head in disbelief. “Me, Kamali? From the time I was brought onto this earth until now, and I am 59 years old, I have never killed anyone, or ordered anyone to be killed.”

Continue reading “Envoy’s Search for Justice Shows Rwanda’s Dark Side”

Rwanda: Critical, Stabilizing

by MICHAEL 0. ALLEN in Rwanda and GENE MUSTAIN in New York, Daily News Staff Writers

KIGALI, Rwanda–The heartbeat of this nearly terminal country thumped a little louder yesterday.

The war ravaged capital city, as most of the country has little portable water, few working phones or toilets and hardly any electricity–but people were beginning to try to go about their business.

For the first time since rebel army took over, an open-air market was live with the noise of a back-to-basics economy–hawkeers pitching okra and plantains and buyers haggling over the price.

Nearby, the few people with money to spare sipped warm beer in Kigali Night, the hottest nightclub and bordello in town.

Beyond the market and the club, however, the evidence of Rwanda’s difficult road to recovery was everywhere. Neighborhoods were deserted. Buildings lay in ruins, or looted of their contents. Refugees trickling back to their homes lugged the bodies of the sick or dead relatives on makeshift stretchers.

Rwanda Patriotic Front soldiers questioned civilians at gunpoint and searched vehicles at roadblocks built with plastic crates.

The new government’s Tutsi-dominated leaders, overwhelmed by the demands of resuscitating the country, announced that they will step aside and a let a United Nations panel investigate and prosecute officials in the former Hutu-dominated government suspected of waging genocide against the Tutsi.

“We recognize the importance of a fair and independent judicial system to stability and democratic reform and we intend to develop such a system expeditiously, said Alphonse Nkubito, the justice minister.

Continue reading “Rwanda: Critical, Stabilizing”

INGREDIENTS FOR GENOCIDE: Burundi seems headed for same fate as Rwanda

nullby MICHAEL O. ALLEN, Daily News Staff Writer

BUJUMBURA, Burundi–The driver’s father was a Hutu, but his mother was a Tutsi, and that ethnic mix is a recipe for murder in this country–where all the ingredients of a Rwandan-like bloodbath are beginning to boil.

Afraid he was a marked man, Selemani Hakizimana drove fast and furious through the Hutu-dominated villages along the winding road to this jittery capital city, where the outnumbered Tutsis have an uneasy hold on power.

“I must drive fast, I cannot stop,” he said. “These are Hutu villages; if I stop, they will kill me because they will see that I have Tutsi blood.”

The ethnic hatred that’s ripped apart Rwanda–leaving a half million dead from genocidal attacks and more than a million in refugee camps–runs even deeper in neighboring Burundi, a former Belgian colony of 6 million.

“In Rwanda, a Hutu and a Tutsi can marry,” Hakizimana said. “Not in Burundi.”

As in Rwanda, the Tutsis comprise only about 15% of the population; unlike in Rwanda, however, they have always held the military and political upper hand.

But now that a Tutsi rebel army has gained power in Rwanda, the Hutus of Burundi have seen the value of revolution. In the last month, 3,000 Burundians have died in political killiings, mainly Tutsis.

In reply, Tutsi students began rioting earlier this week and virtually shut down the city for two days. All businesses closed, as did the airport. Fifteen people have died.

Yesterday, in a televised talk, Burundi’s acting president warned the nation against going down a Rwandan path.

“Think twice before you act,” said Silveste Ntibantunganha. “Rwanda should be example for us all.”



Amidst lesser mountains, Kilimanjaro sat mysteriously in the distance, its brooding, mammoth expanse shrouded by clouds that streaked the rising sun. It was barely dawn at this wildlife reserve, and the elephants were headed out to the swamps.

I must confess that the burden I had carried in my heart to Amboselli National Park, in Kenya, lifted at the sight of that first baby elephant. It loped along goofily, trying to keep pace with its mother.

Twelve more gray pairs followed, then a herd of wildebeest and a span of gazelles, warthogs, and buffalo. Cattle egrets paced with hippopotamus, munching grasshoppers while scampering from underfoot.

This visit last month to the wildlife preserve was my attempt at a vacation. Yet I held little hope that it would banish the nightmares that had been creeping into my sleep or erase memories of the horrors I had witnessed as reporter covering the tragedy in Goma, Zaire, and Rwanda.

A dozen zebras heading to a pond for a drink looked warily at three Maasai warriors approaching in the distance. A pack of hyenas, accompanied by two jackals, ate a baby wildebeest under the gaze of a council of vultures peering from the trees.

Here on the plains under the shadow of Kilimanjaro, the laws of nature were apparent. Animals engage in their own Darwinism. But how to explain the unnatural carnage of the prior month—the gruesome slaughter of 500,000 Tutsis by the majority Hutus, and the mass deaths of refugee Hutus from politics and disease?

Humans, when we deign to acknowledge our place in the animal kingdom, think we are better, more evolved beings than the beasts cavorting on the plains. The scriptures assures us, after all, that we are created in the image of God.

When, with the world’s complicity, a Rwanda happens, it gives us pause. It gave me nightmares—nightmares that started at one site of the carnage, and which have plagued me until I arrived home, in New York, this week.

Inexplicably, the nightmares began shortly after I arrived with other reporters to stay at the CentreCQ Cristus, a Jesuit retreat in Kigali, Rwanda, a few weeks ago. I say “inexplicably” not to diminish the horror of what happened at Centre Cristus, but it’s not clear to me why the story of what happened there affected me more than the horrors I actually witnessed.

Continue reading “AFRICAN EPILOGUE: Dreams of Death”