photo of beardsleyGhosts of Rwanda
major brent beardsley

He was executive assistant to Gen. Romeo Dallaire, force commander of UNAMIR. In this interview, Beardsley details the problems facing UNAMIR from the moment they arrived, and he recounts the first hours of massacres, which showed that extermination was underway: "It started with the moderate leaders calling and then all of a sudden ... they weren't calling any more. Ordinary people were calling, 'There's killings here, killings there … -- come and save us.'" In talking about what UNAMIR confronted once everyone else had pulled out and their troops had been dramatically cut back, he says, "We could have packed up dead bodies, put them on a Herc, flown to New York, walked in the Security Council and dumped them on the floor in front of [them]. And all that would have happened was we would have been charged for illegally using a UN aircraft. They just didn't want to do anything." This interview was conducted on Nov. 15, 2003.

General Dallaire. What did you know about him prior to this assignment in Rwanda?

The 450 [U.N forces] who remained on the ground saved the lives of 25, 000 people  General Dallaire stated quite frequently that if 5, 500 troops could have come in, we could have arrested it. Do the mathematics, we could have saved over a half million.

... I knew General Dallaire. I had not really met him, but I'd seen him on several occasions at conferences, seminars, that type of thing. He was very charismatic; he was every inch a soldier. He appeared to me always to be very bright, very energetic -- a lot of energy and a lot of intellect. Of course, when I found out that I was going to go work for him, I had asked around to various buddies to find out what he was like to work for. They all told me, "You're going to work." He is man who is very passionate with the mission that he's given. He doesn't tolerate mediocrity, and he expects a 100 percent commitment to the mission. ...They told me that "You'll work like you've never worked before," and I was not disappointed.

And you were looking at lessons learned from other missions. What were those lessons, and how do they apply to Rwanda?

There were missions that were extremely dangerous, that were in deterioration: Croatia, the Bosnian mission, Somalia had gone sour. This [Rwanda] had all the appearance of being a tradition[al] Chapter VI peacekeeping mission -- very stable situation, two parties, a civil war. There had been a truce, there was peace agreement, and we were going to implement the peace agreement.

So on first looks, [Rwanda] was a very straightforward peacekeeping mission, like I had done in Cyprus, for example. … It appeared to be exactly the same thing. So a lot of the lessons that we were learning out of Bosnia and Croatia really weren't applicable to this, because we thought it was going to be a traditional Chapter VI mission.

How much information were you able to get about Rwanda and the peace process there?

Absolutely nothing, or next to nothing. My greatest source of information [about Rwanda] were encyclopedias. …

There was nothing in our libraries. There was nothing -- even when I went for an intelligence briefing, the guy that was giving me the intelligence briefing had just come back from sick leave. Our mission area was obviously a non-priority mission. He gave me Time magazine articles, that type of thing, so we didn't get any deep insight into Rwanda. There was nothing on the bookshelves about it at the time. It wasn't extensively written about. I couldn't find anything. So we had very, very little information, knowledge of the background to Rwanda, its history, its culture, what had taken place in the country since independence or even before independence, and especially even in the last couple of years. So we went in quite blind. …

You went on the technical mission?

Yes, we were warned in June, July [1993] there was the expectation that the peace agreement would not be signed for some time. Suddenly -- or at least it appeared to us suddenly -- in August, the peace agreement was signed. So within a week, we were given a call to report to New York and to participate in what the U.N. calls a technical mission, or a reconnaissance mission. It's an information-gathering mission. So we packed up and went to New York.

We didn't have a map of the country. We couldn't get one. We were using what was the equivalent of a Michelin road map. No one in New York seemed to know much about the mission area or the mission itself. We could tell that Somalia and Bosnia and Croatia were the priorities, and that this was not a priority mission.

The observers who had been at the Arusha [accords] came back to New York. One of them who was to lead the technical mission suddenly fell sick and was out of the picture. The military observer that had been there had the copies of the peace agreement, but there were vast areas of that peace agreement that were big gaps, and he couldn't answer a question. So we really didn't have much more information leaving New York than we had going in to New York.

We made a reconnaissance plan of what we wanted to do, what we thought we wanted to do, but it was very loose, so we could play it by ear when we got on the ground. Then suddenly General Dallaire, instead of just being the military component, is all of a sudden given command of the whole mission. So now he's not only responsible for the military component of the information gathering; he's also doing the political, the humanitarian, the administrative logistics. So that was a big job. ...

How did that mission go?

We spent our time traveling around the country. [We] bounced from one meeting to another and one tour to another. We came back at nights, and then would try to assemble what we had learned that day for our report.

What we found out is that, within the reconnaissance team, there was no one that was an expert on Rwanda; they were all green on it, and they were all there for the first time, just like we were. One or two had paid previous visits, but there was no Rwanda expert. So we had to take a lot of stuff on face value; what they told us we had to accept.

What was portrayed to us by all sides is that there had been a civil war in the country, that they now had a peace agreement, and that it just really needed the U.N. to come in and help them implement that peace agreement. That's the way it was portrayed to us.

There were some disturbing things that we did learn on the mission. There were militias. There were youth movements in the parties. There was some suspicion that they had been distributed arms at some point during the civil war to act as self-defense units. The moderates, in some occasions, and the members of the diplomatic community would say that, "There's a time-sensitive issue here. You've got to get here as soon as possible. It'll all work, but you just got to get here as soon as possible." We were basically told that we were already behind schedule.

Now they wanted to have a fully deployed U.N. peacekeeping force on the ground within 37 days of when they'd signed the Arusha peace agreement. That just can't happen -- just the mechanics of it just can't work. So we were told right from the beginning "Hurry up, hurry up, hurry up. This will work, but you got to get here fast." That was our impression of the mission. ...

The hope was that it could be a success story for you, wasn't it?

Yes, very much so, at that time, too, because there had been so many recent calamities and failures in Croatia, in Bosnia, in Somalia. The U.N. was hurting and taking a lot of criticism. I think there was a desire in the U.N. to have another success story. They'd had some early success stories in the early 1990s in Central America missions, and I think they wanted to have some winners.

On that mission, you went down there and you were assessing Rwanda. In retrospect, [General Dallaire] wrote that he thinks it was he, or the U.N. that was being assessed. What does he mean by that?

Now, in hindsight, what I believe is that, in late 1992 and really 1993, there had been massacres in Rwanda -- ethnic massacres, where Hutu extremists had killed Tutsis. The Arusha peace process at that time had been stalled, and the RPF had launched a major offensive. They'd broken off the peace talks and launched a major offensive that literally shattered the government forces. They could have won the war at that point, at least taken the capital. The French had intervened, and the international community had told the RPF that they had to negotiate. I think the RPF side were going to give it one last chance. They negotiated Arusha in good faith. They signed the agreement, and they were prepared to negotiate one last chance. But this time, if it failed, they were going to go for broke and settle it on the battlefield.

On the extremist side, their army had been shattered, and they needed time to repair that army, so that it could hopefully, in their eyes, defeat the RPF. On the other side, knowing what happened -- the genocide that eventually broke out -- they needed time to organize that. Genocides just don't happen spontaneously. They've got to be planned and they've got to be organized. There've got to be training. There's got to be equipment. You've got to sow the seeds of the hysteria in the population, and that takes time.

I think we were part of a grand Machiavellian plan. We were there to sham everybody into believing that the international community was committed, that the peace process was moving forward, and to buy [the extremists] time, so that they could make their plans and their preparations.

I think they'd watched the news media very carefully. They watched Somalia, and they knew that big Western countries did not have the will to go into black Africa and take casualties. They had watched what would happen, that they could get rid of us or thought they could get rid of us any time they wanted, just by inflicting causalities upon our contingent. So I don't think they were intimidated by us at all. I think they knew us better than we knew ourselves. They definitely knew the strengths of the U.N. and the weaknesses of the U.N. better than we did. ...

What was the scope of the mission that you envisioned, and what happened?

Well, a couple of things happened. Number one, as soon as we got back to New York, everybody else on the reconnaissance team disappeared all back to their regular jobs. So the report was very much dumped in General Dallaire's hands, and of course myself, to help him. A lot of people that had been on the mission disappeared on vacation, because it was the end of the summer. So we were stuck with putting this report together and doing the initial drafting; and again, our knowledge of the situation at this point was still pretty shallow.

We knew that the U.N. was tapped out, troop-wise; it had gone from a half a dozen missions with 8,000 soldiers to almost a dozen missions with 80,000 soldiers in just a couple of years. So they were saying that the chances of getting troops is extremely low. And General Dallaire was told, "Don't bring in a request for anything more than 2,500."...

We call it in the military -- they "situated the estimate." They told us what the plan should be. If you're going to recommend a peacekeeping force, then it mustn't exceed 2,500. We estimated that we needed about 5,000, 5,500. In fact, one of the earlier missions had gone, and said 8,000 would have been the minimum number of soldiers.

So we accepted, all right. But again, the way it had been portrayed to us on the technical mission was this was an acceptable risk, because there was a lot of good intent, good cooperation on both sides. So General Dallaire accepted the 2,500-man limit on the mission. We put together a force structure. We put together the plan, the missions and tasks, and what we would need from contingents, and a draft budget. All that information was passed forward to the secretary.

And the recommendation came back?

They came back and they accepted the 2,500-man plan, as long as it was phased. In other words, when we didn't need troops, we didn't have them there, for cost savings. They told us from the beginning that it was going to be a cheap mission. There was no will to spend more money. The Americans were seriously in arrears on their payments and dues, and so were many other nations.

Right from the beginning, I think we-- General Dallaire definitely recognized it, and myself also that our mission wasn't priority. The priority was in Bosnia, the priority was in Croatia and the priority was in other mission areas. It was not in Rwanda. We were a sideshow; we were an afterthought. When everybody had finished everything else during the day, they then thought about Rwanda.

So we were constantly lobbying and fighting. I really take my hat off to General Dallaire on this, because he literally had to fight for people's attention, and he did; he went around and basically pushed through the report. But the long and short of it was, it was a question of resources, and at the time, there was just no resources.

You know [General Dallaire] writes in his book and he said on camera that, in retrospect, he wonders whether he wanted the mission too much. Do you think he's being fair on himself?

No. He would do that -- say that -- in hindsight. I think if he went back to the way that we [said it ] in 1993 -- this looked like a fantastic opportunity to have a successful peacekeeping mission that could bring peace to a country, and move it from a very corrupt, brutal military dictatorship to a thriving democracy in just a few short years with a very limited amount of resources, if we got those resources and we were able to implement that agreement. So it had all been portrayed to us, and we saw it as an incredible opportunity. I think that's the way that General Dallaire sold it. In hindsight now, maybe a mistake was made. But at the time, certainly we believed that this thing could work. ...

What was the mood as the new year began?

I think there was a lot of hope. We had incredible shortages within the mission; we were short of logistics, we were short of communications, we were short of vehicles. We didn't have a budget, we didn't have money. All the contingents that showed up did not bring what they were supposed to bring with them. There had been enormous problems. At the same time, the security situation had been deteriorating with these staged incidents. The Interahamwe were coming out in the open. They wore a clown suit with a clown beret in the national colors, and they had caught our attention. We knew that this third force, as we called them, was out there.

We started to realize that it wasn't just two sides. It wasn't a government side and the RPF side; within the government side, there were two distinct factions. There were moderates who were extremely committed to Arusha, and then there was this group of extremists that appeared to be opposed to it, or had problems with it. So as we went in the new year, our eyes were starting to open more that there were going to be challenges, and that this was not going to be as simple as we thought it would [be]; we were certainly going to have a lot of challenges.

General Dallaire took a calculated risk with the [negotiation] operation, where we brought the RPFs down to Kigali. We had negotiated Kigali weapons, secured an agreement. We had secured the departure of the French. We had a significant force on the ground, or enough to meet their requirements. We had achieved a lot going into the new year. So we had a lot of optimism that, if we can get this broad-based transitional government up and established, then there will be a focal point for the moderates to rally around and for the people of Rwanda to see that the peace agreement's working. ...

Then there was a window into this third [force]. What happened?

... Two things happened before the informant [arrived]. The broad-based transitional government stalled. The moderate political party split into power factions, extremist factions, and moderate factions. As a result, there were two wings of the party, both claiming the ministerial positions and the assembly positions in the new broad-based transitional government. They were kind of asking, "Will the real Liberal Party please stand up?" There was a real political impasse.

We were supposed to install the new government on Jan. 1. We weren't able to do it until Jan. 4. The lists were all screwed up as to who the delegates were, who the assemblymen were, and who ministers of the government were going to be. Only the president was installed, so the whole political process ground to a halt.

Were you there at that [installation] ceremony? What was that like?

The Interahamwe showed up. The presidential guards came right out in the open and blocked the entrance to the assembly after the president got in. They were searching, trying to search vehicles to prevent the moderates from getting into the meeting. The RPF saw the lists; they weren't happy with them. They walked out, and the whole ceremony basically came crashing down after the president was installed.

It was a pretty shocking day, and what was really shocking was how fast it had happened. This mob literally just came out of nowhere, set up. Presidential guards were there right away, and the whole thing was stalled. When [the ceremony] was cancelled, it all disappeared. It came together and it disappeared very rapidly, so it told us that it was planned. It wasn't something that was just spontaneous; it was something that was extremely well planned.

So then we're into that political stalemate. Then we wanted to get more information on who these Interahamwe [were], and where the presidential guard fitted into this thing, and the informant came forward -- Jean Pierre.

How did that come about? What happened?

General Dallaire was encouraged to meet this individual, a high-level person inside the Rwandan government. [A] moderate. He asked [to meet with] Colonel Marchal of Kigali sector, because he was the sector commander. ...

He told us that Jean Pierre claimed to be a high-level person in the Interahamwe, a trainer in the Interahamwe. He was a former soldier, presidential guard commando. He was now setting up training for the Interahamwe and setting up a network of cells throughout the country, right down to the parish [level], down to the cell level in the country. They were also assembling lists -- he'd been told to create lists in each of these areas -- of the Tutsi that lived in that area. He suspected it was for their extermination.

Dallaire set the example. He convinced us that this was the moral thing to do. Even though the mission that we had known had failed, we had a responsibility to the people of Rwanda to try and save as many as we could.  We did the best we could with what we had.

He gave us insight-- The RGF was passing arms to them, the MRND (National Revolutionary Movement for Development) political party, passing them for the finances and money. They were training them at army camps throughout the country and taking them away for two to three weeks of training -- the hardcore Interahamwe -- and bringing them back to form cells and to train others. They had weapons in central locations that had not yet been distributed.

There were at least four arms caches in Kigali, and he was prepared to give it all to us. He was prepared to give us the arms caches. He was prepared to give us the names of who was involved and who was supporting and providing them, the whole thing, just for some minor things. He just wanted his money converted into U.S. dollars, and he wanted he and his family provided with security and given a passport to a Western nation.

So this was a godsend of information. We finally had a look right inside, and we finally had the opportunity to seize the initiative on the ground. General Dallaire saw this as a fantastic opportunity. So we drafted a code cable to New York to explain to them. General Dallaire felt it was important to inform superior headquarters of what he was intending to do.

He wasn't asking for permission. He was saying, "This is what I intend to do, and I've got 36 hours." We're conscious that this could be a set-up. This guy may be too good to be true and they're setting us up to do something, but what we will do is, we will confirm.

We expected to use that period for reconnaissance and confirmation. Then, within 36 hours, we wanted to hit at least four of those arms caches simultaneously, to knock the Interahamwe off balance and knock the extremists off balance, to capture these weapons, to expose this Interahamwe and extremist element to the nation.

It was going to be a brilliant operation. We were all set to go, so we informed New York of that. Then [for] the other side, we said, "We need some help here on this, converting his money and getting passports that we don't know how to do, so you've got to help us on that." We just saw it well within our mandate. The Arusha peace agreement had called for the mutual international force -- us -- to recover illegal weapons; it had authorized us to do that. The mandate that we had told us to contribute to the security of the city of Kigali In our rules of engagement, we had anticipated the recovery of illegal weapons.

... So when the answer came back in a few hours saying, "Absolutely no way, you're going way beyond your mandate," we were totally stunned by that.

I think General Dallaire's first impression was "They just don't understand. Something's off the rails here, we're off course. We're fully authorized to do this; that's what we're here to do." There was just a heavy traffic of cables back and forth and phone calls. He got on the phone, and he was talking to them on the phone. There was no way. The gang in New York were gun-shy. Somalia had really kicked them, and they were not under any circumstances going to use any type of force.

They started to issue political direction to General Dallaire that he was to inform the president, and he was to inform the heads of the diplomatic missions -- and some of those missions we didn't trust. But he was told to pass that information [on]. Obviously, telling the president-- You might as well be announcing it to the world.


We were very suspicious that the people that were involved in this were from [the president's] party and the youth wing, so where was the president in all of this? And the president, on one side of his mouth, he said he was committed to the Arusha peace agreement, and on the other side of his mouth, he was criticizing the agreement. So he seemed to be playing all sides in this thing. The other thing is, he's surrounded by a bunch of aides who are loyal to [him].

When General Dallaire went to brief him, there were a number of people there with him who took in that information. We found out from Jean Pierre that, when General Dallaire went that day and spoke to the president, by that afternoon, the head of the MRND Party knew about the meeting and knew what had been said. [Jean Pierre] had been called in by the head of the MRND Party and told to distribute the weapons. So that was within hours.

... We lost the initiative. We lost this fantastic opportunity, an absolutely incredible opportunity to maybe get this thing off the rails, take this train of genocide and knock it off its rails, get the initiative; maybe rally the moderates and be able to prevent what they obviously wanted to do, what Jean Pierre told us they wanted to do, which was exterminate Tutsis. ...

Did you really think you had an insight into a genocide that was being planned?

Well, "genocide" was a word that in the early 1990s wasn't in my vocabulary, and I don't think it was in General Dallaire's. It's a word that we use frequently today, but back then we didn't. We used the word, I think, "cleansing." That's the word that was coming out of Yugoslavia.

Genocide to us, at that time, was something like the Holocaust, so we didn't call it a genocide in the fax [to the U.N.]. What we said was, it was an extermination -- that they wanted to ethnically cleanse. [The] words right in the paper are "to exterminate Tutsis." We thought that was accurate. That's what [Pierre] told us, and we thought that that was the word that describe it.

The whole controversy of the word genocide is something that would come up later, the g-word. It would cause a lot of grief, but at the time, there was no doubt in our mind from what Jean Pierre said that their intention was not just to kill moderates, it was to kill all Tutsis.

Also in the fax it [names the] intention to kill Belgians. ...What was that about?

... Jean Pierre, the informant, said they were to be very careful during these operations, because the Saturday before, there had been a large demonstration. In actual fact, the demonstration was a set-up. They were trying to entice Belgian soldiers into a situation where the Belgians would use their weapons, either firing shots in the air or firing shots at the crowd.

They had off-duty, or in civilian clothes, presidential guards, commandos, gendarmes, that type of thing, with weapons hidden -- who would immediately then jump out. They wanted to kill -- and the number I remember from the time -- was 10 Belgians. It was ironic, because it was exactly the number that was killed later.

But they wanted to target [Belgian soldiers], because they felt that if the Belgians were killed, that Belgium and the U.N. would pack up and leave. So already the situation was changing, that somebody didn't want us there and that they were going to target us to encourage us to go. ...

What came [next]?

We watched the situation get worse -- just little things like grenades going off. When I arrived in Rwanda, there might be one a week. It then got down to several a week, and then it got down to one a night and then several a night. By March, we were counting grenades each night as we ate supper, going off within the city. There were assassinations, there were demonstrations, there were riots.

We tracked Interahamwe teams being sent north to Gabiro to be trained. We knew that the weapons had been distributed by this point. We'd intercepted a couple of arms ship[ments]. We'd intercepted one at the Kigali airport, and another one in a vehicle one day that happened to be in an accident.

People that were talking to us were telling us the situation's just getting worse and worse. The political situation was not being sorted out in any way. There was no political leadership in our mission to deal with that. So the situation was just falling apart there. It seemed that the world didn't care. There was no outside intervention in this thing. The diplomatic community was involved, but not really committed, and we knew at this point -- we could see it, we could feel it -- we were sitting on a powder keg. There was a fuse burning, and if that fuse didn't get stopped, that keg was going to blow. And it blew. ...

April 6. What kind of a day was it, and where were you in the evening?

The mood during the day on April 6 -- We were still really concerned about what the United Nations had done with the renewal of the mandate. [We] were supposed to, by this point, be getting into the demobilization. We were actually now about three months behind schedule, because the broad-based transitional government was [failing]. Instead of exerting diplomatic pressure and political pressure to get the thing sorted out, they made this threat to the Rwandans that if they did not install a broad-based transitional government, that the international community was going to wash its hands and possibly pull the mission.

General Dallaire begged them not to send that message. It was the absolute wrong message to send. It basically said, "If there's any trouble here, we're leaving." So for the extremist who -- If somebody doesn't want Arusha and doesn't want to implement the peace agreement, that's exactly music to their ears. So they were literally given a green light by the Security Council to do what they wanted to do.

We were still trying to sort out that and how we could pull this thing together. But the security situation was seriously deteriorating. We had to bring down a reinforced company from the demilitarized zone to reinforce Kigali, because we now had so many scattered little detachments of troops all over the city.

We had all these moderate ministers and key political figures that we had to protect at their homes. We had U.N. installations, we had camps, and had all this around the town, so we had a lot of troops tied down in isolated, very static locations. Vehicles had still not arrived. Communications were still absolutely horrendous. We had no reserve stocks of water, food, fuel, medical supplies, ammunition -- all the things that you needed.

We were still fighting all those logistics battles. It was just another one of those frustrating days where you're trying to sort this stuff out that seems to go in circles. We came home. We were sitting around. We'd had supper, and we were just waiting to watch CNN on TV, and all of a sudden, we-- I don't recall hearing the explosion, but the phone rang and [force headquarters] told us that there had been an explosion at the Kigali airport.

... As I remember, it was General Dallaire actually that answered it. ... More calls started coming in. It wasn't only the force headquarters. Prime Minister Agathe called, Prime Minister Forsten called, Mrs. Lino called -- a number of people. General Yidoho called. General Dallaire called him. So there was just continuous phone calls.

It went from "There's been an explosion at the airport" to "We think it's the ammunition dump at Kigali that's blown up" to "It's a plane that's crashed," to "It's the presidential plane that's crashed." So over about the next hour, from about 8 p.m. until 9 p.m. … the situation came pretty clear that the president's plane was down at the airport.

General Dallaire put the force on red alert, and we called all troops to camps. [He] was waiting to get a feel for the situation, to be assured that everything was normal. He directed Colonel Marchal to send troops out to the crash site, to secure the crash site for an accident investigation. Then we got a call from [moderate Rwandan] Colonel [Ephraim] Robalinda, who was our liaison officer. He asked General Dallaire to come to the army headquarters for a meeting of what he called a crisis committee. ...

So you went to this meeting? ... What time of night was it?

Yes, myself, General Dallaire, and the Dutch aide, Robert Van Pooten. ... Seems to me that it was about 9:00 to 9:30 at this point. We were heading through very darkened streets in Kigali, very quiet streets. Kigali was a city that never slept, and regardless of day or night, you could drive around Kigali and there would be people out moving around.

There was no one. The streets were just empty. It was like a ghost town. We saw some vehicles flipped over, turned over, their doors open. But we saw no presidential guards, we saw no patrols out, we saw nothing. Everybody had just disappeared. We drove very carefully and slowly, because we'd heard that there had been firing, there had been roadblocks set up in various areas of the city; but there were not. It was very empty.

When we got to the army headquarters, it was over-manned. Troops were standing to. Lots of troops moving vehicles. Obviously the garrison had been rousted. The guards were reinforced at the gates. We were ushered into a parking spot, and immediately up to a conference room inside the army headquarters. ...

There was a horseshoe table. At the center of the horseshoe was Colonel Theoneste Bagosora, who was known to us as the minister of national defense. Next to him was Major General Augustin Ndindiliyimana, who was the chief of staff of the gendarmerie. There were a bunch of other officers. ...

[Colonel Bagosora] was at the head of the table, and he did all the talking. No one else spoke during the meeting. ... Colonel Bagosora ran the entire meeting. He told us the president's plane had come down. He didn't necessarily say it was shot down, but it had come down at the airport -- that the president was dead; that the country was in crisis; and that he and these officers represented a crisis committee that was going to assume control of the country until the political framework, until the politicians could get in charge.

General Dallaire was concerned about this, and would consistently emphasize [his concerns] throughout. It went back and forth throughout this meeting for about the next hour. [Colonel Bagosora] was saying that the president was dead, therefore, there's no government. General Dallaire was saying, "Well, no. The head of state is dead, but there is a government. Prime Minister Agathe is the prime minister of the country, and she has a Cabinet." [Colonel Bagosora] was saying, "Well, no, she doesn't have any credibility with the people of Rwanda. Therefore, we have to take control just to keep a lid on the situation. The presidential guard is running amok. They're out of control. There's elements that are out of control."

[This] didn't really get anywhere. ... The conversation then moved to what measures can we take to maintain security, and that's when Colonel Ndindiliyimana identified four vital points in this city -- radio stations, gas, electrical, that type of thing, that needed to be secured with gendarme forces.

General Dallaire's point was, "Get the troops to their barracks and keep them in their barracks. Comply with the Kigali weapons security agreement. There's no need for troops to be out. Just increase your gendarme patrols. We'll add forces, and we'll keep the lid on this situation. Get the prime minister to the radio station so she can speak to the nation and calm it down." That's the general way that the conversation went, without much happiness from Colonel Bagosora.

He didn't want the prime minister?

No, absolutely, he didn't want anything to do with her. He said she has no credibility with the Rwandan people, she's just a caretaker. An officer that was sitting next to me, who stunk of booze, started swearing in French underneath his breath about her and calling her various names. So we were stalemated. ...

What was going through your mind at this point?

"It's going to blow. The fuse has burned down to the gunpowder keg, and it's going to blow." General Dallaire was determined to try and keep a lid on it. The crisis committee was having a major meeting that morning with all the army commanders and he went, knew he had to be at that meeting to address those people and to take stock of the situation. Was this just an accident? Had the president's plane been shot down, and [if] so, who had shot it down? Was this a coup? The people that wanted the coup -- was it moderates or was it extremists? Did they want to start the war again with the RPF? Was this what Jean Pierre had warned us about? All of those things were going through his mind as he took off.

I was left at the headquarters that day to man the phone, which was the only link to the world. I took calls at the rate of 100 an hour. As soon as I put down the phone, it rang again, and it just never stopped for the next 12 hours. It started with the moderate people, moderate leaders calling. Then all of a sudden, they started dropping off the net; they weren't calling any more, and others were calling.

Ordinary people were calling. "There's killings here, there's killings there. They're murdering here. You've got to come and save us there." We were passing those by radio. I would get them by telephone. I would call it by radio to Kigali sector. Kigali sector would try to send out patrols, but they were totally, totally swamped with requests. There was a real breakdown in communication. There was just too much coming in that could be reacted to.

The other point was too is that our patrols started to be blocked. All of a sudden, there were just roadblocks set up all over the city. Militiamen roadblocks, presidential guard men roadblocks, army men roadblocks; roadblocks went up everywhere. They would not allow [ACVs] to pass, they wouldn't allow our vehicles to pass, that type of thing. You had to work your way around them. So we found out more and more that our patrols just couldn't get through to the places they were being sent to.

What were you saying to people when they called?

We'd just say, "OK, where are you?" They'd give us the location, we'd say, "Look, stay right where you are. We'll try to get to you as soon as we can." I'd pass that information to Kigali sector. They'd acknowledge it, but they'd say "Brent, there's nothing left. Everything's out, or everything's trying to get out."

That's all you could do for people. We thought it was better at the time that they stay in their homes, where they had a degree of security and protection, than it was to get out on the streets, where they didn't. Very early that morning, starting around dawn and proceeding to about mid-morning, one by one they were knocked off, and we never heard from them again. Then later it was confirmed over the radio that they had been killed.

Did you hear people that were calling saying, "They're coming after us now?"

Yes, I heard a lot of people screaming, saying, "They're at the gates, they're breaking in, I've got to go." That'd be the type of thing, and they'd hang up. ...

All of our contingents were reporting that there was mobs in front of their gates, that they couldn't get in or out, or if they did get out, they couldn't get back in. It was just chaos. It blew, and as the day progressed, it just got worse and worse and worse. ...

Can you talk about that evening after you [heard what happened to the Belgian soldiers?]

There was a lot of confusion about what had happened to the Belgians. In the morning, we heard they'd been released, and we said, "Great." So there was a period of several hours where I never even thought about them. It turns out that the group that had been released had been the group that had been sent out to the airport to investigate and secure the crash site. They had actually been surrounded by presidential guards. They refused to give up their weapons. They went back to back, refused to give up their weapons. They'd been taken to the airport, and then had been released in the morning. That was that first report that Belgian troops were missing, and then they'd been released. So we thought it was that group.

Then in the afternoon, we got a call from Kigali sector, saying, "Have you heard anything from General Dallaire? We're dealing with it at the unit level. But have you heard anything from General Dallaire about our troops?"... We're saying, "What guys? They were released." and he said, "No, there's another group that was with the prime minister."

So we were very confused in a lot of these situations at the headquarters. We were working through three or four different radio nets; the communications were incompatible. ...

So finally General Dallaire came back. He assembled all of us. He told us that the Belgians were dead, that he had physically seen the bodies. They had been captured. They had been murdered, and he had physically seen them at Kigali Hospital. He told us that most of the leadership was dead, that they had been murdered that day. [He] told us that the RPF had told him that they were resuming hostilities within -- They'd always told him that they would give him 24 hours notice, and they did. They said, "You have your 24 hours notice. We're resuming hostilities tomorrow at 4:00 p.m."

He told us, as far as he was concerned, even though the mission appeared to be over, we still had a mission to do in Rwanda, and we were to carry on. Then he went upstairs to consult with New York and with the political staff and that type of thing. So he inspired us with some good words to try to get some rest and sleep. But basically we said, "Yes, sir," and we carried on. ...

In a space of one day, [the extremists] amputated the entire moderate leadership of Rwanda; by that night, they were all dead. They and their families were dead. A lot of the leadership within the Tutsi community was dead. They had targeted all that day, and they had succeeded.

So this was extremely well planned, well organized and well conducted. This was not something that was just spontaneous. You don't make all of these actions just off the cuff when you're going to several key locations around the city to people's homes. You know exactly where they are. You know who's there. You come up in overwhelming force, you overwhelm the guards, you're into the compound, you grab the whole family and you kill them. It's not something that happens off the cuff. Also, the way that the whole city was just shut down with this network of roadblocks, the mobs in front of all of the camps -- It was a well-conducted operation. It was well organized, well planned, and it was executed. ...

So now we're into April 8. Do you remember where you spent that day?

... Power went down, water, sewage went down in the city at dawn where again the mobs were out before dawn, blocking the camps, blocking the roads. General Dallaire started his shuttle diplomacy, which would characterize what he was doing for the next number of days. We started going out, picking up our military observers who were at various locations, picking up our U.N. staff, picking up diplomats and picking up people at risk. We started a whole series of what we call rescue missions to go pick people up, try to locate them. We had a lot of people to locate, and we basically did that until the end of the mission. ...

The evacuations were for foreign--?

The airport was shut down as of the night of April 6, and it was closed on April 7 and April 8. On the morning of April 9, there was a heavy volume of fire in Kigali. General Dallaire got very little notice that the French were coming in to do an expatriate evacuation, which sent us into a bit of a concern, because we weren't sure if the French were coming in to back up their government allies and what effect this could have on RPF. The RPF shot down the aircraft [before], and again he was given like 45 minutes notice. That's all they told him.

Luckily, the French did land. They did secure the airport, and they announced that they were coming just strictly to get out their expatriates. What that meant was anybody that was white-skinned got to get on an airplane and fly to safety, and anybody that was black-skinned got to stay in Rwanda and get killed. That's as simple as it came down to. It still to this day leaves a very, very bad taste in my mouth that the United States of America could have 350 Marines sitting at [Bujumbura, Burundi] airport, that the French were able to get in 500 or so paratroopers, that the Belgians had over 1,000 paratroopers.

You know, we basically had our intervention force already on the ground. What they later told us, it was impossible to get on the ground. We had it on the ground on April 10, within three days of this thing starting. But it wasn't there to intervene. It wasn't there to save Rwanda; it was there to save white people, and that's what it came down to. White people were saved and black people were not. For those of us who lived through that time, it still leaves a pretty bad taste in our mouths.

Including Rwandans who worked for the U.N.?

Absolutely. Rwandan civilians worked for the U.N., Rwandan civilians that worked for the American, the French, the British embassies, the NGOs, the aid agencies -- Nobody has their hands clean on this one. All of the white European North American people went to the airport, got on a plane and flew out. All of the black people [whom] they did not take with them -- and they, in many cases, they did absolutely nothing for them -- not even try to hide them or at least get them to us. This was a later beef of ours as, "Why didn't you bring them to us so we could put them in the stadium, or [hotel]?" They just literally dumped them there.

Then when they got to the safety of Nairobi and they got into their five-star hotels, then they got on the phone and would call us up and say, "Can you go get so-and-so?" Our people here need to get safe, and then they expect us to go through the roadblocks, through the fighting and pick these people up. And we tried to do it. In most cases, those people were very early targeted. Many of them were moderate Hutus or they were in fact Tutsis. Tutsis had been very involved in aid agencies, diplomats, with missions -- that type of thing. And those people were already dead; too often, they were dead. ...

So there were a lot of foreign troops there? What does that tell you about the situation?

On the morning of April 9, when the French battalion was the first on the ground, we also got a phone call that day that there were U.S. Marines in Bujumbura, Burundi, and we knew that they were on the ground. We knew that Belgians were coming -- at least another battalion, plus their headquarters was on their way into Rwanda. So all told, there was somewhere around 2,000 troops in and around Rwanda within three days of this thing starting.

You could sense [on] both sides there was an immediate lull in the fighting, and you could tell that both sides were taking stock of the situation. The RPF were concerned that the French were coming in to back up the government forces against them. The RGF side was concerned obviously that maybe this international community's coming in to intervene in the situation. They both gave the international troops a wide berth, and they allowed them to conduct their operation. They didn't confront them or cause any grief for them whatsoever.

There's this myth that has come out of Rwanda that it was impossible to intervene and stop this genocide. The facts go in the face of it. Within three days, there was 2,000 troops on the ground, and that could have been the start of a bigger operation and bring in even more. They had a decisive impact from the moment they hit the ground. If they'd only have stayed, I still believe that we could have prevented what happened, and I'll take that to my grave.

Then after the Belgians were killed a few days later, you get word that the Belgians are going to leave?

Initially, when the Belgian soldiers were killed, we heard that Willie Claes, the foreign minister of Belgium, was actually lobbying the U.N. to increase our mission and to reinforce it. We were actually quite ecstatic. Then all of a sudden, out of the blue, General Dallaire got this call from Europe that Willie Claes had informed the secretary-general that Belgium was withdrawing from the mission, that they were pulling their troops with their expatriates, and they were leaving the mission.

That hit us like a knife in the chest, because the second contingent that had come through was a well-led, well-disciplined contingent, unlike the first one. The Belgian staff officers were our best commanding staff, trained multilingual officers. They were the core of our headquarters, and to take them out literally shattered the mission, shattered the force headquarters. We had to replace key positions with what we had left, and we lost our best-trained, best-equipped contingent. We weren't sure if it was a blow that we could recover from.

It was shocking news, and we couldn't understand why they were doing it. Yes, they'd taken some casualties, but Belgium had created the problem in Rwanda. It goes back a hundred years, and in their case back, to 1916, when they took the colony. ...They had a debt to the Rwandan people for what they had done during the colonial era. They had been committed to the mission. They had asked the U.N. that they must be included on that mission. Traditionally, former colonial powers are not included in the peacekeeping force, but they had insisted that they be in that peacekeeping force. They were the one of the largest, if not the largest contributor of aid to the country. ...

There were horrific scenes at the [Don Bosco School].

There were. In fact, I couldn't believe it at the time. I can remember I'm on tape somewhere, speaking to reporters, telling them, "No way that happened. I can't believe that that would happen. There's no way the Belgian troops would just abandon Rwandans like that without telling us, without making some arrangement to get them to the stadium." I couldn't believe it. It wasn't until months later that finally it was confirmed to me. I eventually saw the video of it, and it made me sick to my stomach. I never believed that professional Western soldiers, Christians, Belgians, could do such a thing. It absolutely disgusted me. ... I still I find it incomprehensible that they knew that, when they left, that they were abandoning those people to their deaths, and to make absolutely no effort. ...

So once the force was reduced, you had officially 270?

450. We never came under 450. But officially we were to go to 270.

What could you then realistically do with that small number, and what did you try to do with it?

The primary thing was to keep the airport and maintain control of the airport, because the airport was the lifeline of the country. There was fighting for all the major routes coming into Rwanda. Those routes were cut, so the only way we could get anything into the country or anything out of the country was by the airport. ... In addition to that, we now had several sites throughout Kigali where we had people that were at risk.

All together we had about 25,000 people. Would 450 be able to defend 25,000 from 60,000 attackers? No, they wouldn't, but we were able to put a thin blue line around those locations. So we had to protect those locations to protect those people. We had to get humanitarian aid in. With the airport we could do that, and then we had the people [on] the safe side so we could deliver that aid.

In addition to that, we were trying to save more lives, trying to go out and pick people up where we could and get them through the lines and get them to safety. General Dallaire was attempting to get the killings to stop and trying to always put pressure on the government to stop the killings, also to get try and get the RPF and the RGF to sit down and call a truce, call a ceasefire.

Then just trying to feed information to New York; we were trying to be the eyes and ears of the world in Rwanda. We invited in reporters; Mark Doyle from BBC News stayed with us throughout and broadcast live. General Dallaire did live television, telephone links to Michael Enwright back in Canada. General Dallaire asked every night, "Every reporter that calls is to get access to me," and we tried to spread the world of what was going on.

Nothing seemed to work, and this is what got so frustrating day in, day out, week in, week out. It was like the world had disappeared out there. It was almost to the point where you want to get on the phone and just yell into it, "Is there anybody alive out there? Why aren't you coming to back us up? This isn't a difficult mission. You could do it, it is achievable."

No help came. We really were on our own, and we felt it the day that the Belgians left. All that was left flying was two Canadian force Hercules coming in and going out of Kigali Airport, when we could get them in and out. We really knew then that we were on our own, and there was no help over the hill. No one was coming to get us out. No one was coming to support us. We had to stay and do our job.

Why did you stay?

Because General Dallaire inspired us to stay. He set the example. He convinced us that this was the moral thing to do -- that we still had a responsibility, even though our mandate was over, that the mission that we had known had failed. We had a responsibility to the people of Rwanda to try and save as many of them as we could. That mission hits your heart; that's what you signed on to. We did the best we could with what we had.

How do you think you did with what you had?

I'm pretty proud of what we did. General Dallaire-- I know he has a lot of grief still to this day over it. Two things. One, the 450 who remained on the ground saved the lives of 25,000 people directly, then indirectly through providing humanitarian aid, most likely tens of thousands more than that. General Dallaire stated quite frequently that if 5,500 troops could have come in, we could have arrested it. Well, if you do the mathematics, we could have saved over a half million people. If the troops had stayed on the ground, if they came in on the evacuation or more troops had come in, we could have stopped it.

I think the other contribution that we made was telling the world what happened. This was a genocide that was not only preventable, it was a genocide that was reported. We were able to tell that story to the world. General Dallaire believes that his failure in the mission was his inability to convince the international community to intervene in Rwanda to save lives, and that somehow he didn't use the right words or the right statement, or he couldn't move them. But that presupposes that people actually wanted to know and actually wanted to do something. So we agree to disagree. But I think he did absolutely everything he could, and they just-- The world just didn't care, and it made no difference what you said or how you said it to them.

We could have packed up dead bodies, put them on a Herc, flown to New York, walked in the Security Council and dumped them on the floor in front of the Security Council, and all that would have happened was we would have been charged for illegally using a U.N. aircraft. They just didn't want to do anything. ...

So there was an effort to get the story out?

There was quite a bit of international media in Rwanda on April 7. Then during the expatriate evacuation, more reporters came in. But when the Belgians were leaving and the evacuation was happening, the reporters all quit the country. General Dallaire approached the last group, which Mark Doyle was a member of, and he said, "If any of you stay, I will give you a story a day, and a means to get your story out. But I need people to stay." The only one that took him up on it was Mark Doyle, BBC, and Mark stayed. Mark lived with us in the headquarters. He shared our water, or no water; he shared our food, or no food; he slept on the floor. He lived with us, and he was the voice to the world from Rwanda.

Every night, he got on the phone in my office, and he called BBC and he did a live radio report. During the day, he went out; he took the same risks that we did. He went to the same locations. He got his story every day, and he got the means to get it out, and he was the only one. The others all went to Nairobi and then telephoned us, and General Dallaire would then tell them over the phone what was happening. But Mark stayed on the ground. ...

There were others had started to come in and stay, so later on, in May/June, the situation with the media had got stronger and better. Of course, as the security situation improved, then they flooded into the area. ... But for those critical days in April, Mark Doyle was the voice of the world.

Philippe Gaillard says he does not feel guilty. He says he feels that he [did all he could.] General Dallaire [felt he could have done more]. How do you come down on that? How do you feel?

Do I, me, personally, feel guilty? No, no. I have satisfied myself that I did the best I could with what I had. I've satisfied myself that General Dallaire did the best he could with what he had. The remorse, guilt, that he feels is related around one thing. It's that he feels that he failed to convince the international community of what was happening in Rwanda. Somehow he failed in language.

I was hoping so much that when we wrote the book, that we would get that across to him -- because we went back through all the documents and everything else -- I took every opportunity to say, "Look, sir, it would take a complete idiot not to realize what's going on in Rwanda from these documents." But he still feels that there was something --"If only they understood they would have come and helped." My point is, "No, they wouldn't have, sir. They wouldn't. It made no difference. They did know, and they still didn't come. "

He just can't believe that humanity has sunk that low. I personally believe it's most likely lower than that. ... I guess maybe there are times where a certain incident will come to mind and I'll feel bad about something. But on the whole, I don't feel guilty.

I feel very sorry, one, that it happened, that we failed in our mission. But it happened. I don't think anything we could have done would have prevented that. But there are things that could have been done to prevent it; this was definitely a preventable genocide. I think what bothers me even more, and where I lose a lot of my sleep over, is we haven't learned anything from it. It's 10 years later, and it's almost forgotten. I still bump into people in Canada who've never heard of it, don't know where Rwanda is, never heard that there was a genocide.

I don't know what they were doing in 1994. They must have been deaf and blind. We haven't learned from it, because we had the same thing happen again in Rwanda and Burundi and Congo over the last 10 years. We've had 4 million people die in Congo, five times what died in Rwanda, and still the world sits back and does nothing, and that's where I feel bad.

I feel that we haven't learned from our mistakes. Instead of like in 1945, when we said, "Never again" after seeing the Holocaust, you know, after Rwanda, it's like "Yet again, yet again, yet again, yet again." We don't seem to be able to marshal the will and the means to stop this. That, I find very lamentable.

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posted april 1, 2004

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