This is FRONTLINE's old website. The content here may be outdated or no longer functioning.

Browse over 300 documentaries
on our current website.

Watch Now
photo of dallaireGhosts of Rwanda
general romeo dallaire

He commanded the U.N. force sent to Rwanda in 1993 to help enforce the peace. In this interview, he chronicles his time there - from the "gloom that came in" soon after arriving and sensing trouble coming, to the sudden collapse of his mission once the killing began, to the moral burden of the life and death choices he confronted trying to save lives with a few ill-equipped troops. He also talks about the world's attitude toward dirt-poor African nations like Rwanda, the heroism of a few people, and how he looked straight into "evil" as he forced himself to negotiate with the genocide leaders. Finally, Dallaire describes how Rwanda will never leave him. "My soul is in those hills, my spirit with the spirits of all those people who were slaughtered. … Lots of those eyes still haunt me, angry eyes, or innocent eyes. But the worst eyes that haunt me are the eyes of those people who were totally bewildered. They're looking at me with my blue beret and saying, 'What in the hell happened?'" This interview was conducted over four days in the fall of 2003.

Were you excited about [being assigned to command the U.N. troops in Rwanda]?

Why is it that the black Africans, sitting there being slaughtered by the thousands, get nothing? Why is it when a bunch of white Europeans get slaughtered in Yugoslavia you can't put enough capability in there?

As I write in my book at times, I'm wondering whether or not I was salivating for this command. Imagine you are a fireman or a fire chief who spent his whole career in prevention, you'd say, "Well he did a good job, there was no fires." But imagine retiring without having gone to put out one fire, or a dentist who never pulled a tooth. We had just finished forty-five years of peace time soldiering in northwest Europe… and that had just all crashed, because of the end of the Cold War. … I had generals senior to me who retired without going into conflict, [or] coming close to it even. … And then all of a sudden this mission appears. … It was like God had given me finally a real challenge for my skills. I just lapped it up. I couldn't get enough of it. And of course when you do get it and so many of your colleagues don't, it creates jealousy and things like that. But also what it does is, there are so few commands like that, you're just not allowed to fail. …

Can you describe the U.N. Department of [Peacekeeping] Operations, DPKO? What was your impression when you went there?

Up until the mid-80s … it was a very small operation; there were only six officers there. It was of no great influence in any of the decision-making. However, with the end of the Cold War and the "new world disorder," the demand for more missions moves exponentially from a couple to sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, in less than a year. …

By the time I arrived there in the summer of '93 [it was] a pretty smooth-running operation, inasmuch as it could handle the volume and the complexities of the problems. There was a good attitude; the atmosphere was positive … But the whole organization was scrunched into small areas where people were literally sitting on printers because they didn't have enough room to print; they had to move furniture to do it. … We had a corner of a conference room with a couple of boxes and we were thrown out whenever there was a conference. We didn't have a dedicated phone, had absolutely no dedicated secretarial staff at all. We were starting, literally, from scratch.

Kofi Annan. His job was?

Kofi Annan was the U.N. under-secretary general for peacekeeping operations. He had the responsibilities in regards to the mounting and operation of peacekeeping missions around the world. You had Kofi Annan, the head; you had Iqbal Riza, a solid functionary within the U.N. as his chief of staff, who really ran the day-to-day things; and then you had Maurice [Baril, the military adviser]. They operated in a "triumvirate," what I call it anyway. These three were the heart of DPKO and decisions were [made] very much together. They worked in synergy.

As you began planning and you had your corner of the conference room, there's a lot else going on in the world. … What was the message you got about where your mission fit within the grand scheme of what [the U.N.] had to deal with?

… The Yugoslavian situation was very complex at the time -- this is before Dayton and all that stuff -- just trying to stop the ethnic cleansing, with a small force and missing equipment. Somalia had blown up with the departure of the Americans. Cambodia had been a success but was becoming administratively complex to handle. Haiti had just taken off. … It wasn't a time where you felt that the concept of "peacekeeping" was having success. In fact, it was a time when you started to question whether or not this concept actually works anymore. Does it fit any of these missions that are going on?

And this one was to be just an outright straight classic Chapter VI [peacekeeping mission]. With the peace agreement both sides want you there; we can do it on the cheap, very little resources required. And you got a sponsor. The French were keen, particularly on getting it going so, you know, let's go for it.

[Ed. Note: A Chapter VI peacekeeping mission empowers the U.N. to step in and help put an end to hostilities through diplomacy and without the use of force. In contrast, a Chapter VII U.N. mission allows for coercive measures to be taken -- from imposing economic sanctions to sending in troops and tanks.]

On the 8th of August you get a phone call from Brent Beardsley saying that something had happened in Arusha. What had happened?

What had happened is, unexpectedly, the peace agreement was signed. They had had problems with determining the prime minister of the interim government until the peace agreement's broad-based transitional government would come into place… . To everybody's surprise, all of a sudden, bingo! A lot of this stuff was resolved and they signed the agreement and we had a mandate -- that is to say we had a mandate to look into that agreement and assess whether or not a U.N. mission would be plausible.

So you went to Rwanda on a tactical mission?

That's right. We left on the 17th of August, spent two weeks there. The tactical mission was to provide all facets of a possible mission and what would be the problems, what would be the solutions, what would be the concept of operations, generally speaking. How much is it going to cost? …

What were your first impressions of Rwanda?

What a phenomenal experience. You know the first breath of air of Africa -- it felt like you were in another continent -- you were, you were -- and it was different. My skin, my senses felt that it was very significantly different, and as such you had to suck it in by the pores… .

It was incredible, just the adrenaline and the fact that what you were doing was going to provide the guidance for very senior people to decide whether or not these people would be helped or not in their path towards peace. I felt that as a very significant dimension of my responsibility. I mean, you were actually going to help them bring this about, because they couldn't do it on their own because of frictions and other reasons of that nature. And so the weight of that was real. The excitement of it was real. … [And I] felt a little nervousness, of course, first shaking hands with those leaders and starting up the mission.

You met a range of people there from different political parties in Rwanda?

Mostly [from] the moderate side of the house. It took to the last day of the two weeks to meet with the president, which was a very annoying sign. We never got to meet … the hard-line extremists. We had a good feel for the military on both sides, what they had been doing and what they were structured and equipped. … The sense was that the political stuff was uncertain, and they really wanted us there soon. They wanted us there by the 10th of September, thirty-seven days after signing. … And so there was a sense of urgency that was passed on to me constantly. And my report reflected that this is not a mission that has six months to build up or a year to sustain itself. This outfit had to be on the ground yesterday. Instilling that sense of urgency in the documents and so on was not a problem. Some of the staffs in New York acknowledged it but the system in regards to supporting it, providing people, providing resources, authorities and so on simply was not up to the task. … It couldn't react to the sense of urgency because it didn't have the tools. …

What were your impressions of the military sides?

The RPF already looked quite disciplined and well structured, living in the bush in the North. Excellent physical condition. Weapons well maintained. Clothes clean and very businesslike.

On the government side, you could discern a difference between elite units, such as the presidential guard and the commandos, and your general run-of-the-mill units who had been, essentially, augmented by recruits nearly pressed into service during the previous three years of war. There was not that same commitment in that your run-of-the-mill soldiers, they didn't have good medical care or support. A lot of them suffered from malaria, and there wasn't this total sense of pride in the defense of the mission against these rebels except, again, when you hit those elite U.N. units. There you found equivalent to the RPF, and sometimes exceeding.

When you met with the [diplomatic] community, what was the message that they were putting out? Were they saying to you, "Look, this country is in trouble" or did they feel that the Arusha peace accord was a big step forwards, that in general the road was leading towards peace?

[They hadn't] expressed to us the fact that the extremists had signed under duress. You didn't get that solid clear feeling. What you did get, however, from the ambassadors and military attaches was "get your bodies here fast so we can take advantage of this moment, and if you don't it's going to turn complex again."…

I think when I left … I was quite optimistic. I was sure it needed a mission, was sure it was a Chapter VI. I would have preferred a bigger force but I was ready to do a minimum viable force. I felt that with timely interventions and support we'd be able to crack this thing.

During the two-week tactical mission, did you feel that not only you but the commitment of the West was being evaluated by the extremists?

I think all sides were doing that inasmuch as they knew the West was the entity that could intervene or provide the capabilities. They also knew that the West was absolutely overstretched in a number of operations, not the least of which was the whole Yugoslavian campaign. I felt that there was also an assessment going on as to whether or not the white western world or the developed world would, in fact, be keen at all in coming. … Whether they would, in fact, just let it ride and maybe throw some money at it. In that sense I think strategically they were being quite astute. Not being that astute, I was wrapped up too much in the operation and a lot of tactical stuff, and so I don't think I picked up enough on that side of the house and how they were going to play their cards for the future. …

Do you think now, knowing what we all know now, that at the time of your first visit the genocide was being planned?

You've asked a very perspicacious question, because the essence of your question is, "Do you believe the genocide was planned?" … There was an operation being planned. Whether it was clear as a genocide, whether they actually even articulated the term-- I think it was eliminating that moderate political side. There was no doubt. The killing of the others, and the continued killing of the others could have been just as fortuitous because they had a structure in place, as it could have been deliberate. But the question that I keep asking myself, as I do in my book, is why did it take so long for the Rawandan Patriotic Front (RPF) to stop it? Why three and a half months? …

After the technical mission, you write a report, you came back to New York and what happens then?

We produced a report which has to be put in U.N.-ese and all that good stuff. So that takes a couple of weeks. As we're doing that I'm lobbying in different countries with the representatives in regards to the mission. I was told to do that because nobody was supporting it apart from the Belgiques, who were prepared to send in a small capability, and the French, who wanted people to come in. Nobody was interested; they were peacekeeping'd out. So a lot of time was spent on that, then a lot of time in interpreting my report into a format report that goes from the DPKO and Kofi Annan to the secretary-general, who then goes through it … and modifies it with the inputs of the political department [and the] humanitarian department. And then it's presented to the Security Council, who then deliberate on it and then take a decision whether or not that mission goes or no goes. …

They pretty well agreed to what I had planned, but they reduced a lot of the stuff I felt we had to do in support of the mission … which created enormous problems on the ground. … A lot of the emphasis of people looking at the report was on getting that thing to be a lowest cost possible and get out of there as fast as you can. …

You said during this period, with all the restrictions you wondered whether you wanted the job too much.

Yeah. Well as I say in the book, my enthusiasm for making this work got to the point that I had to sit back and assess whether or not I was taking too many risks, whether or not I was prepared to cut too many corners. I wanted that command, and I wanted it to be a successful exercise, so I had to sit back and go through all these parameters that were all pointing in a wrong direction and saying, "Am I right, am I being ethical? Is this morally correct to take all these risks and to have the mission created and me commanding it? Or should I pull the plug on it?" Ultimately, I felt we could do it. But that [was] bravado, I think. Nothing was going to stop me.

When you got to Rwanda you decided to have a welcoming ceremony, raise the U.N. flag. Why did you do that?

I did that barely after hitting the ground. I felt it absolutely essential that we plant the U.N. flag in Rwanda and plant it in a place of significance to show all the political entities, all the signees of the agreement and the Rwandans … that the international community were here and we're here to stay and we're going to be doing our job. …

The place where I wanted to make the most impact, because of the few forces that I had, was in the demilitarized zone. So I made a ceremony, invited both parties … [to] a beautiful little village on the top of a hill, a magnificent view of the area, and where a number of other negotiated components of the peace agreement were signed. I wanted to do it right there, right in the heart of the DMZ. And so with less than 60 troops, mostly the Tunisians… we made a ceremony, and the significance of it in security and so on became more and more evident as the big wheels from the government side started to arrive and then the big wheels from the RPF started to arrive, with the arms they brought and us trying to keep a certain control. It became just a mob festival after the few moments of formal recognition and speeches. But it was a great moment. …

And then that evening, during the night at five sites just south of the DMZ in the northwest of Rwanda, were massacres done with a total of about 40 people who were killed. In five different sites, co-coordinated. As the next morning the word started coming to us, and as we looked into it, it seemed so fishy. I personally even went up to one of the sites and the whole atmosphere there was trying to blame the RPF for this.

Some people say an intervention would have been useless because they were all dead. They weren't all dead; they were still being killed and slaughtered by the thousands and thousands.

But for the RPF to go and kill in these five sites families of members of the National Revolutionary Movement for Development (MRND) party meant they had to go through about ten kilometers of DMZ in fairly mountainous bamboo forest to come and wipe out these five families, and then pull back. It made absolutely no sense. There was no advantage in any way, shape or form for the RPF to do that. On the contrary, it would have changed the attitude of how we saw the RPF and its movement and what it was trying to do as an attempt for peace. And so because it was so illogical, and because [there] was no proof of any consequence, it all pointed to the extremists having set up that scenario to ultimately discredit the RPF.

But the investigation never ended. I didn't have the investigating capabilities. I didn't have the legal support. So although we were leading the investigation and had all parties part of it, ultimately there was no resolution. And the extremists used that as a demonstration that we may be less than objective and transparent in regards to both parties.

In fact, on the second day of the genocide when the interim government of the extremists was established, they raised that [incident]. They said, "You U.N. guys are supporting the RPF. Look what you did on the 18th [of] November and the botched investigation." It was one of those creeping components that was well used throughout the propaganda exercise by the extremists and their radio station to try to discredit us as we kept moving ahead.

Talk about the feel of the place in November as this was going on.

It started to come clearer that this was not going to be a classic Chapter VI, where both sides had been totally committed to the peace agreement and didn't want to fight anymore. Rumors in regards to the extremists having signed under duress started to come out. The presence of the militias or, let's put it this way, the youth movements … were become more vociferous and more brazen. … The tone of what was happening was shifting from evident goodwill to an atmosphere that was less than stable, or less than solid. We were starting to get a whiff of the complexities that might be ahead. …

By New Year's Eve, what was going through your mind, looking ahead?

… A sort of gloom came in. We weren't going anywhere with increasing the capability of the mission. I was spending 70% -- at least -- of my time fighting for batteries and flash lights, just the most simple of requirements. Even just furniture, chairs and tables. I had officers still working off the floor at that time, a couple of months into the mission. …We had been going flat out, but we seemed at that point to be simply running in place, and there was nothing that was going to leap us ahead. There would not be a breakthrough, or didn't seem to be one, politically. There was certainly none militarily. There was no troop movements to Kigali. And so there was an atmosphere that things were starting to close in, that we might be more limited than I had ever imagined . …

Plus the fact that the political dimension was now degenerating, or was now becoming the major impasse. The hardliners were becoming more hard-line than expected. We were already getting all these stories about a third force, squadrons of killers, both political and military, or paramilitary, that was around. But we couldn't confirm anything. We were just getting all that as rumors, innuendoes and we couldn't crosscheck the damn stuff, because I was not allowed to have an intelligence capability.

…[As a] Chapter VI peace keeping [mission, our mandate included] just self defense and responding to what either side are telling us in our patrolling. I had no intelligence capability, officially. … I could not conduct any covert operations. I could not conduct hard intelligence gathering on either side, in the classic sense. I was totally dependent on the good will of both sides, and my ability to monitor. That was it. The ability to monitor is not necessarily always the most effective intelligence gathering; you do need other operations. You need even signals intelligence', the phones, the radios, all that kind of stuff.

So although there was lots of rumors of this third force and the extremists and the militias and stuff like that, we still couldn't get our hands onto something that I could [use as] tangible proof. … until the 11th of January when an informant [established contact] through one of the moderate politicals. He was within the higher structures of the MNRD party, which was the single party for so many years, which was the hard line party of the president, which ultimately was one of the extremist parties…

[He told us that] he simply wasn't going to continue to work in that atmosphere. That they were undermining the whole [peace] process and were ultimately planning the evillest of deeds: attacking not only Tutsis, but also the whole attitude or philosophy of reconciliation between the two different ethnic groups that had been going on for a while, and as such decapitate all the moderate Hutu leaders also.

And so we covertly had meetings with him. I was able to … confirm that there were arms [caches]. The quality of the information and the correlation at that point within that very short time was way solid enough for me to take action. … If I could destabilize any of the hidden covert planning and operations that was trying to destroy the peace agreement, if I could get at the extremists and prove to them that I was onto them, and that not only was I onto them, I was taking action to curtail their operations, then I would regain the initiative. And then I would be calling the shots with them still trying to react to what I'm doing. And as such would be far more difficult for them to plan in more earnest. …

So you sent a fax to General Baril. Why him?

In normal procedures the force commander, who is the number two, doesn't send operational or new actions that are going to be taken directly to the military adviser to the secretary general. In this case [Maurice Baril] was a very good friend, and still is. [He was a] Canadian who had been there already for a year. … The workings with [U.N. Special Representative for Rwanda] Jacques Roger Booh-Booh had become very strained. I attended all these political meetings. Nothing was moving. And he wasn't moving. I mean, he was bringing nothing to the table. And although he had discussions, the discussions were of no depth. … He had not taken charge of the mission. He had not held one staff meeting with his principle subordinates of which I was one. And when we finally had one it ended up in catastrophe because he didn't want this arguing and discussing and having to take a decision.

So when I got that information [from the informant], it was late at night and [Booh-Booh] wasn't keen on being disturbed. [He had a] sort of, not regal but nearly sort of presidential attitude which both sides kept telling me, "We don't need this guy from outside with all this pomp and ceremony." So I sent it directly, because it was a military operation, to [U.N. Military Adviser General Baril]. Now that is not the formal way of doing it. But I sent it to him because I needed him to move it fast in the U.N. headquarters and I would inform Booh-Booh in the morning, and if he didn't like it then he could stop it right then and there. But in the interim I needed their confirmation that I was doing this operation so that I could continue planning. I had a 36-hour window there. That is to say we got the information on the night of the 11th. So we would need the next day for the troops to be all briefed up to plan and the following morning, just before daybreak, we would launch the operation. …

You sent the fax off and you signed it--

I signed it with the motto of the high school I was in, which in French is "peux ce que veux," meaning "you can do what you want," I suppose. I also added the motto of the brigade that I commanded, "allons-y," which means, "let's go." And Maurice is very conscious of that. It just flowed at the end of it. You don't normally do that in formal stuff, but I did it because I was so convinced and so committed to getting this operation going, and elated that we were actually going to crack this terrible uncertainty of what this third force was, and that we had all the potential of wrestling the initiative away from the extremists. I sent it and I went to bed, and probably slept one of the best nights I had because I felt that finally we were going to take a certain level of control that would permit us to do so much more, politically and militarily, security wise.

Then you woke up.

I woke up and this cable came in, signed by Kofi Annan in his normal staff responsibilities that essentially said cease and desist. Conduct no such operations. It's out of your mandate. On top of that, in the proper process of a Chapter VI, you will inform the ex-belligerent of the shortcomings that we notice and make it quite clear that he's got to rectify these shortcomings within a very short time frame, or else we will be in a position to have to review the mission, and ultimately their commitment to the peace agreement.

Your fax now is often referred to as the "genocide fax," and understood to mean that you were warning of the genocide.

That's a bit erroneous inasmuch as it's a fax to say that they were planning to conduct huge massacres, or massacres on a larger scale. Now you're going to say, "Well, wait a minute. What's a massacre? And what's large? And when does a massacre end and when does genocide start?" Well … we then expected that there would be killings on a large scale and it could in fact take the nature of the ethnic cleansing. That we knew from Yugoslavia. … In fact, I couldn't even fathom the term "genocide." …

You were not warning of an impending genocide?

No, no, no. I was warning that there would be significant killings and massacres that would destabilize the whole political process, and that in fact we would ultimately not have a mandate anymore, because it would be totally destroyed by the extremists' actions. …

So when you got the reply in the morning, how did you feel then?

Well, being a French Canadian, I was quite expressive. I was swearing to beat the band. I was mad, nearly beyond self-control. I couldn't believe what I got. In fact, the first emotion was like, "This is treason. My superiors have turned against me. They have not grasped what was going on." …

Your instructions from New York were to brief the government, but also brief the foreign ambassadors. I asked U.S. Ambassador Rawson about his meeting with you and I've seen a summary of the cable that he sent back to Washington describing it. And his memory of the way that you described the threat was that it wasn't that urgent. I'm just wondering after these discussions from New York, when you were briefing ambassadors, how did you characterize your sense of the threat? Were you as fired up as you were the night before? Did you feel like you had to sort of toe the line?

…I don't know if I was less forceful than before, but I will say that the winds had been taken out of my sail. And with Booh-Booh around, who often minimized things, it may have come across without the same forcefulness. That's quite possible. … But it was the same information I had sent to New York. I sent exactly the same words. Whether he grasped that as being significant or not depends on [him]. …


Over the next month or so, you requested authority to do other [operations].

Oh my, yes. A number of times. Ultimately they did permit us to conduct operations, but at arms length. Really at arms length. … The aim was to keep us as far as possible from the operation and let the local gendarmerie -- that had some very good people in it, but was infiltrated by the hardliners and extremists … -- do it. …

You describe in your book that you felt like your hands were being tied.

Yes. … There was a sense that I was getting that maybe my assessments were not being taken at full value, and that because of that the instructions I were getting were very technically restrictive. They didn't want me to conduct any of these operations without fully informing them in advance, so they would look at the operation, make their assessment and then I could then start the operation. … . I was not to move unless I got specific authority on specific operations from them, and their outfit was like a sieve. So the Rwandan ambassador was sitting on the Security Council and there were all kinds of different interplays that go on in that very complex building. So telling them in advance what I was going to do and giving them the opportunity to assess it meant that there was a strong, strong chance that the information would get to the extremists [in Rwanda]. …

Let's talk about your visit to Kigali in February when you met with [RPF Commander Paul] Kagame. …

… By the time we're into February … the extremists are getting stronger and more brazen, because remember by then we've got assassinations going on and we've got huge riots, because the government is not paying anybody anymore. … [Kagame] expressed to me clearly that we were moving to a point that something would have to be done. He said one of the two of us -- that is, [the RPF] or the government -- was going to have to win this thing. … It wasn't very veiled as an expression of use of force. … This was not an insignificant statement … and from what I know of him, he didn't talk for nothing. … There was no doubt that he was expressing what was going on in the entrails of the decision making of the RPF.

… Interestingly Kagame's threat [of the imminent use of force]… waned very, very rapidly in the end of February, early March. In fact, we entered a phase where even the hardliners were being much more flexible. There was more of a discussion going on in the political negotiations…, an atmosphere of maybe working out a deal. There was movement going on, and that's why in March, I finally took a couple weeks of leave. … I went to New York, and my desire in New York was to clean up a whole bunch of problems, because I was still ineffective on the ground. I had received finally the Ghanaians who had arrived in February, which were the last of the forces to come in, but there was no equipment. … I was coming in to browbeat and to get that, so that the force could do the job on the ground, and also to ask more resources. …

The way I was received was attentive and so on, but they were continuously being pulled away from discussions because of phone calls from other missions. Higher priority problems. … However, I felt that they were genuinely trying to do their best to help me, within the context of all these other missions and priorities, who also were suffering from all kinds of problems. They knew that the situation was tense, that the situation could explode if we were not advancing the political process. They were conscious that this could not continue, [but] they really had nothing to offer me. On the contrary, they hoped that maybe I could go to the field operations divisions, the gang who receive our demands for resources, and who process them in New York for contracting and so on, that I might be able to go and encourage them. ….

And then you go back to Rwanda. You say in the book that the entire political landscape has changed.

… What happened is that the president threw a curve in the whole [peace] process and insisted that to make this thing really ultimately work it had to be all-inclusive, including the overt, extremist, super-rightwing Coalition for the Defense of the Republic (CDI) party and the Muslim party, which was sort of in-between. The CDI party had refused to sign [the peace agreement] in Arusha, and so they were left out. They had refused to sign that they were going to follow an ethical process of bringing about the peace agreement and ultimately the new government. … I couldn't believe that [the president] had convinced all the players, including Booh-Booh, that that was the solution. …

It was to me the most illogical position to take and what they did by doing that is they shifted the pressure away from Habyarimana … and his guys to find a solution … onto the RPF. A whole international community shifted and said, "You RPF are the ones who are preventing this peace agreement from happening. And you have to demonstrate enormous flexibility, including accepting an overt, hard-line anti-Tutsi party." By doing that they were putting the RPF in an impossible situation. … How could they accept the inclusion of that party who had refused to sign, which meant that they were going against the original agreement of Arusha, and accept them into the peace process? A brilliant strategic move on the hardliners had been presented and had been sold hook, line and sinker to … the U.N., Boutros Boutros-Ghali and everybody else. …

The RPF would be blamed for this impasse. RPF would then be accused of not permitting the peace agreement to go on, and then would have created in the RPF a political hemorrhaging, inasmuch as "What do we do now?" That way, in my opinion, would have forced the hand of the RPF, by the nature of what they are, to take offensive action because that was the only solution, and so the extremists could then blame the destruction of the peace agreement on the RPF.

You went to see Kagame and he said, "How could this have happened?" And he spoke about impending cataclysm. Tell us what he told you.

… Kagame called me up and I went to [meet him]. And he was beside himself. He made it very, very clear that we were moving towards a catastrophic, cataclysmic scenario and that the RPF were in an impossible position. I didn't need him to tell me that because I had smelled that the minute they had told me about the CDI. And I could not convince anybody, certainly not Booh-Booh. … that they were taking the wrong road and that they were putting the RPF in an even more intransigent position. And, in fact, forcing them away from negotiating table.

What did you say to Kagame when he said, "We're facing cataclysm?"

Jeez, I can't remember. … I know I left there with a great sense of doom, but also of deep-seeded anger. I was angry at the RPF for having been intransigent throughout this and not demonstrating more willingness to maneuver. I was mad at the moderates and the Hutu parties who were not merely looking ultimately at the betterment of the overall process. … [I had a] high level of strategic respect for the extremists because they had finally found a way to take the pressure off them for the impasse and shifted it to the side that had been so strongly supported throughout … . All of a sudden the RPF are the real bad guys and the extremists -- Habyarimana and [his party] -- are seen to be reconciliatory and inclusive and wanting to bring a new initiative. It was the most idiotic scenario you could imagine, and it is no wonder that the situation blew up, and it is no wonder why still today I can give you ten options of who shot down that damned plane. … The hardliners, extremists felt that Habyarimana had had given up the ghost in Arusha and was coming back with an impossible moderate position at that point.

It could have been RPF.

Could be RPF. Could be mercenaries at the [behest of] another group. They may be ultra-extremists. It is not crystal clear. And when you look at the events afterwards, it behooves you to be pondering who was gaining from the shooting down of a presidential plane and who was gaining from the actions thereafter. It's an incredible enigma, but there was no doubt in my mind that the international community, which was guarding the whole god damned lot of them, had been sucked in. And they had precipitated a very complex scenario. …

So on the day the president's plane was shot down, April 6th, where were you and what was the atmosphere then? Did you have a sense that something might happen?

On the evening of the 6th I was in my residence there with Brent Beardsley, my executive assistant, and the aide-de-camp (ADC) and a driver, and we were working on some administrative directives … At 8:30 the first phone call came in, saying that there had been a big explosion in Kinumbi camp, which is just at the end of the runway of the Kigali airfield, and saying that it looked like an ammunition dump that had exploded. … Soon after that the call came in and said, no, the presidential plane had crashed. …

And then there were phone calls from the prime minister, who confirmed that it was the presidential plane, and asking me for advice and what's going to happen now and the security situation. She wanted things to stay calm, in the capital particularly. And then a couple of other calls where she was saying she couldn't get in touch with many of her moderate cabinet colleagues, but more significantly all the hard-line members of the cabinet had disappeared, every one of them. They had all of a sudden vanished. While the moderate ones, she was getting various reports of them hiding or still there. But it was very difficult to get anybody together at that time.

What did you do then?

… The liaison officer called me and said that there was a crisis meeting being held at the army headquarters and they would very much want me to attend to assist. … I took off with Brent Beardsley and my ADC and we went to army headquarters, and it was very quiet at that point and nothing much going on in the city. We attended the session with Colonel Bagosora who was the executive assistant or chef de cabinet of the Minister of National Defense. He's a retired colonel and a hardline person, in fact considered even more than hardline. He was chairing the meeting. … We had a number of exchanges explaining what I could do, what they wanted to do, dominated by the fact that I continued to insist that they should immediately get the Prime Minister Agathe to come to the fore and be the political leader so that it'd be clear that this thing is not a military initiative one way or the other. And continuously Bagosora, acquiesced by the other senior officers there, kept saying that she is of no use and she never was able to garner her cabinet anyways. She was ineffective and not representative of the government, and that's why they, the military, were going to hold the fort for the shortest time possible and find the political structure that will come out of this and hand over to them.

Did you believe him?

Well at the time, I had no immediate feel that I was in the face of a coup d'etat. … However their not acknowledging Agathe was that sort of signal to say, "Wait a minute, this is not necessarily as clear as it would seem. Bagosora was known to be a hardliner," and so on. Immediately you started to ponder, what was the aim of this exercise? …

I told Booh-Booh of my plan of action, which was to protect Agathe and get her to a radio station or some means of communicating with the population, so that she could express you know a calm to them. Because I was smelling more or more … that maybe this is not as clear as what we might think in regards to them simply trying to keep control of the situation. I was still not pondering coup d'etat as such, I was just [wondering] were they trying to maneuver and what did they consider to be the political process? And so I said, one thing for sure we gotta keep Agathe protected. …

When you called New York what was the message that you got back?

… Mr. Riza was very clear in that I was to stick to my classic Chapter VI mandate, that I was not an intervention force and that the rules of engagement were to be strictly self defense, and nothing more. There was a concern that we could get drawn into this exercise, and you can still see that paranoia of Somalia coming back, you know, "Just stay where you are, you are not in authority to intervene."

Now, in this U.N. stuff, the commander, although he has troops, they don't really belong to him. They're loaned by the country to the U.N. to be used, but each of these countries provide a contingent commander, a senior guy who communicates directly back to his capital. And so the contingents were over the course of the day getting more and more communications with their international capitals, who were becoming more and more restrictive in what they wanted their guys to do because the risk was too high, and the situation was too confused. And so we entered this arena where I had troops but I didn't have troops and how much of them could I use, and to what avail? And as the day wore on it proved that there were a bunch of the troops that were absolutely useless and they were going to do absolutely nothing. …

[I was also] trying to get the political meeting at nine o'clock at the American ambassador's residence sorted out, only to find out that the ambassadors couldn't make it there because there were more and more road blocks coming up and they were concerned about their security. … So the political process [was] going nowhere, and so we've got no data on what's happening. It made it only that much more significant that I had to go to where the source was … in order to get the sense of how much that side was going to try to stop this haemorrhage and go back to the Arusha agreement and to the rules of the weapons-secure area.

And that was where? You were talking to people, the crisis committee, down in the camp?

Well you see, there was no crisis committee as yet structured formally by that time, and I'm talking about 9:30 in the morning. What I'm talking about is Bagosora and [Augustin] Ndindiliyimana, the chief of staff of the gendarmerie and the other officers. Agathe was getting all the protection she needed, at least what we expected was needed. We ended up by having twenty-five troops there on the ground of different nationalities. With that sort of in hand, my job now is to go get ahold of Bagosora and say, "Okay, what's going on now, what is the situation?"

Meanwhile I had sent my deputy to the RPF battalion to keep them calm, because the last thing I needed was them to punch out and then we'd have altercations between the two forces, and then I wouldn't have a mandate. If one side was overflowing and the other side was being restrained, I could still negotiate to stop this haemorrhage and to re-establish the rules of the Arusha agreement. But if the other gang leapt in then I got both belligerents going at each other, my mandate then is nonexistent any more, Chapter VI. And then my mandate is Chapter VII [which is] to be an intervention force, pull out, which is the option in such circumstances, or attempt to negotiate ceasefires or truces. …

We made our way to the Ministry of Defense [thinking that Bagosora might be there, but] and nobody was there. I said, "Well maybe they're right back to where they were last night in the army headquarters." … [So we] went to the main gate of the Kigali camp where the headquarters was, and that was armed to the teeth. … They were there with the armoured vehicles in a very strong defensive position. The major went out to see if Bagosora and the guys were there; in a very short time, he came back and said, "No, they're not there, they're at the E´cole Supe´rieure Militaire (ASM) with all the commanders." So we just turned and went towards the ASM.

[Ed. Note: While Dallaire was looking for Bagosora, the prime minister's house was stormed by Rwandan troops. The U.N. soldiers sent to protect her radioed back for instructions, and were told to adhere to the peacekeeping mandate, offer protection to the prime minister but not to use force. The prime minister fled to a neighbor's house, where she was later killed; the U.N. soldiers surrendered their weapons and were taken hostage by the Rwandans. The African U.N. soldiers were soon released, and the ten Belgian peacekeepers were taken away.]

At the secondary gate of the camp as we're driving by I saw two soldiers in the Belgian uniform lying on the ground about fifty odd meters inside, inside the camp, and I told the guy to stop, I said, "These are some of my guys." … I had already by then information that a number of my troops were unaccounted for, that I had Belgian soldiers already held up at the airport. I had a bunch of people that I didn't know what their state was in by the time I left. So that made me conscious of the fact that, "Hey, maybe they're not just held captive or something. I might be taking casualties." And that is the major shift in the whole operation at that point.

So by the time I'm objecting we're already at the ASM; it's only a hundred meters or so away; and at that point, the shock had turned into a rapid assessment of, what the hell am I going to do now? And in fact what it made me realize is that I had the bulk of my force, and also the civilians, in a very vulnerable position. I had over three hundred officers with no weapons or anything spread around the RGF side in particular for the security of the implementation of the peace agreement. …

You wrote in your book that a commander spends his career training for moments like this.

Yes, yes. Having been in the army at peace for so many years, I mean in the Cold War, but at peace, you rarely get really tested. You're sort of like a fireman who hasn't really gone to a fire but has spent his life in prevention. And so you don't really know even with the strong training you get that when you're actually in that operation to what extent all that training will come to the fore so that you take the right operational, tactical decisions at the time. And so, thirty years of military training to me, was to give us that ability to take instinctive decisions, and the right instinctive decisions, and not necessarily having to go through a pondered assessment of all the factors. … If you have war experience all the better but if you don't at least you are to be capable of taking those instinctive decisions, and the right ones. And so your whole life is dependent maybe on those nanoseconds of taking that right decisions, because it's life and death of people in these scenarios. And that's where I was [as I was] moving to the ASM. Also, I saw my soldiers there, who told me that the Belgians are being beaten up.

I was already saying, "I can't get those guys out of there, I just don't have the forces or the deployment capability. … I can't take these bastards on." I was already, not mellow in that decision, but already conscious that to do anything for them and for the others I had to negotiate. That's what I had to do. As long as I could keep the RPF under control and they don't bust out, then it was a matter of negotiating to put the clamps on those government forces and to stop that haemorrhaging right then and there, and then we could move back to the peace agreement. That was still in my mind, and that was dominating my mind, except I had this tinge, this gut feel of uneasiness that with the political process not having worked out, are we facing a coup d'etat here? And what are the ramifications of this coup d'etat, with guys like Bagosora running the show? And so because everything's so close, and I wanted to get at the source of what the hell is going on, I went directly into the large ampitheater and busted into the meeting that Bagosora was running.

The essence of what I said was one, my condolences at their losses, but two, get a grip of your units &hellip which seemed to be overflowing outside of their garrisons against the rules of Arusha. And [three,] I'm staying. I don't know whether or not at that point they had specifically taken those Belgians to kill them -- remember by February, there had been planned ambushes, and Jean Pierre [the informant] had told us that they were trying to set up to wipe out a dozen or so or ten Belgians in order to break the back of our mission, because if the Belgians pulled out I had no real substantive capability to sustain myself, and that the international community would pull us all out. These guys knew about Mogadishu also, and so what I was making clear to them was, I'm staying. …

What came clear during the day was that Bagosora was very much in command, with Ndindiliyimana in support of him; and that the negotiations to try to curtail the units -- which were mostly presidential guard and a few others -- and get them back in their garrisons was not working. I was getting nowhere with them in getting my troops out because they made it quite clear that the camp was in riot, that their own officers had already been beaten up, and that there was no way, no one's getting in there, but they were still negotiating to get the Belgians out. So that went through the afternoon. Negotiations with the RPF broke down. The RPF then punched out by the late afternoon, and by that time, with the RPF punching out, my mandate had just ended.

However, there was no damn way that I was going to pull out of there, because I felt that maybe we might still be able to stop this because we've only got a few units in Kigali doing this, the rest of the country was quite calm. … And so we had a crisis meeting which was led by moderates but had ex-hardliners in it… We had another meeting that evening with the new interim chief of staff who was a known moderate from the South, and a good guy. … But I was still being stalled on where the hell my Belgians were. And so I made it quite clear that this meeting will never end until I have access to those Belgian soldiers, and by then we were still uncertain how many there were -- thirteen, eleven, ten. … And then finally a phone call, after insistence, came, and said that they are all at the hospital at the morgue. …

And so I said, "Right, let's go." The morgue was a little shack, a bit of an L-shaped small shack, and there was a twenty-five watt bulb at best, and there in the corner of the L-shape was this pile of potato bags. Just looked like a pile of potato-- Big, huge potato bags. As we got closer, we saw that they were bodies. And they had just been piled up, some face down, others face up, just sprawled there in a heap. … Some of them were half-garbed, others still had their uniforms on. There wasn't much blood. … You could see bullet holes and some cuts, but they were not, from what we could see there, significantly mutilated.

I had my ADC take pictures. I ordered them to sort out the bodies and clean them and prepare them, and [told them that] the next morning we'll have Belgian troops coming to get them, and then I just stormed away, through more bodies. … It started to sink in, the fact that I had lost troops in my command but it didn't waver in any way, shape or form my assessment that there was absolutely no way that I could have mustered even the Belgians into a cohesive force to be able to take on that camp and find those guys and save them. It was not going to happen. That is an interesting point of contention because when people say, "Well you should have stopped everything and go take care of those Belgian soldiers and to hell with the rest of the program," others would say that we -- you know, white professional soldiers -- can still totally overwhelm black soldiers, even the best of trained soldiers with merely their presence and a bit of shooting and stuff like that.

And some say that the Belgians shouldn't have turned over their weapons.

Well, they shouldn't have done that, absolutely … [but] what was happening is that the extremist military would arrive with a truck full of people in a sort of a scenario of changing the guards. They would simply approach my soldiers, and although they were on alert they approached the soldiers and simply beat them up and took their weapons away, before they could even react. … The procedures that were being used by the extremists were the normal routine procedures, except they brought in more people; and for the guards having more people come would have made sense because they were just increasing the number of security. They were all caught off guard and they simply either were beaten up and taken away or their weapons taken away and they were told to get lost. …

[As a commander], you have to take instinctive decisions in nano-seconds that will influence thousands or hundreds of thousands and you hope that what you've been building up over the years through ethical and moral references and command experiences and leadership that when you have to take that one instantaneous decision, you're taking the right one. And I've never doubted that that morning I took the right decision. … There was no way to get those guys out of there without risking the mission, the people and an enormous number of other casualties and potentially falling right into the trap that those bastards wanted me to, [to] become a belligerent and have to be totally pulled out. Because the nations would not want to sustain those casualties and become the third belligerent and then the whole lot of us would have been out. No way. I would not be able to live with the moral[ly] corrupt decision of packing up and leaving.

The net result is that Belgium decides to pull out its troops. Obviously your own troops now know that they are potentially vulnerable and your best forces, best contingent leaves.

…The situation was of course catastrophic for Belgium, having ten soldiers slaughtered like that at the start of the war. The government over the next couple of days attempted to argue for reinforcements; they did. Willy Claes did say, "We've got to reinforce," and did ask around for reinforcements to be committed there, but by the 12th, which is a few days down the road, nobody had any interest in coming to Rwanda, they didn't give a damn. They didn't want to take the risks, they were not going into another African escapade that could degenerate like Somalia. It's at that point, to the [best of my knowledge] that the government said, "No, that's it, we're pulling out."

… Losing the Belgians, although a major force in the mission, to me didn't give me the authority to close down the mission. That's why I'd said that earlier on at the meeting with all the commanders, "I'm staying." So if they were implementing their plan to scare us off by killing Belgians, right from the start I wasn't buying it. … I still felt that I could hold the fort and do something. But what then happened is the Belgians then went around and argued with all the other nations that if we didn't pull out, the Africans being what they are, the Belgians knowing the African mentality so well, is that when Africans have a major loss they go berserk. And when they go berserk they'll kill anything. … They convinced everybody else that if they didn't pull their troops out they'd all be slaughtered.

Well, the shit hit the fan then because the bulk of my forces then stopped doing anything, retreated into their trenches, and were going to do nothing to help stop this tidal wave that is starting to build up. And on the contrary … they're sitting ducks there, taking casualties, and they're eating up what I have left of rations. I simply said [to the U.N.], "Right, you're not going to increase me, here are the options of reduction." … Ultimately the minimum left on the ground would be about two hundred and seventy to stay alive, stay there, to keep reporting, negotiating ceasefires and ultimately hopefully being the foot on the ground for a reinforcement that ultimately would come in. …

Let me talk to you about the April U.N. Security Council maneuver and how it looked from your perspective. Boutros-Ghali had put forward the options for the withdrawal -- a cable came, and you were awakened at 4:30 [AM].

Yes. It's a cable that essentially is saying that there is no option for reinforcement, and that the options that are being studied are options of withdrawal or reduction of the force. It also indicates that although some countries -- the British, the French -- were inclined to [keep] a smaller force for a short period of time to see if there's any good will, the Americans come down categorically and say, "No, there's no way there's going to be a cease fire, so let's pull everybody out and get out of that quagmire and then see what happens afterwards."

… The Security Council was already of a mindset that for political reasons, we should leave somebody on the ground, but they were certainly tending more and more to pulling out and following the lead of the Belgians and certainly the Americans. So it was a significant shift; forget any idea that somebody's going to come and help you Dallaire, or that your forces were going to actually do something positive. … So that scenario brought an enormous gloom. I remember Maurice Baril sending me a code cable not long after, but because I was up north with the RPF, Brent Beardsley took the phone call and Maurice said, "Tell Dallaire that there is no cavalry coming over the hill. None." …

As we got closer to the Security Council becoming far more involved with the process… Boutros-Ghali was being lobbied also extensively, and one of the options that came forward was that the whole outfit be pulled out. In fact I did get orders to pull out completely lock, stock and barrel from Boutros-Ghali and I said, "No way, I refuse to abandon the mission and turn tail and run while the bodies were piling up all over the god damn place."

When I got that order, I went to [my deputy, the Ghanaian General Henry Anyidoho.] … I said, "Henry, they want us out. We've failed in the mission, we've failed in attempting to convince, we've failed the Rwandans. We are going to run and cut the losses, that's what they want us to do. What do you think about this?"

And Henry responded and he said -- now remember he had a large force there, he had over eight hundred troops, and he took it upon himself without consulting, as yet, his government and he said, "We've not failed and we're not going to leave. We should stay." And that was all I needed because by Henry saying that, that meant that I would still have troops on the ground -- which were good troops, not well equipped but good troops. ... His support was exactly the depth that I needed to give me just that much more oomph to decide, yeah, that's it. So I stood up and I said, "Henry, we're staying, we're not going to run, we're not going to abandon the mission, and we will not be held in history as being accountable for the abandonment of the Rwandan people." It was just morally corrupt to do that. And that's when I went back and told them to go to hell, or words to that effect.

When the order came to start withdrawing down to the lowest level … to 270, well then I implemented a withdrawal plan. … We were able to stop the withdrawal of the Ghanaians and to keep about 450 on the ground.

What could you possibly do with such a small number of troops?

I didn't see myself being able to protect a whole bunch of people, although we already had over 20,000 in our sites, so there was no way that I could abandon them. I needed some protection for those sites, or to consolidate those sites in one way or another. I also needed the transport capability, for if we were able to keep a life line going I could bring food and fuel and medicine, not only for my troops but for those people. ….

How did you find out the prime minister had been killed?

Well, I was at the defense ministry after the morning meetings and, because none of those leaders were there, and I had discussed with the headquarters things that were going on, there was still this situation that hadn't been clarified.

And so I was directed that they're not at the UNDP [U.N. Development Program] office, but at the UNDP compound where people were living, and that was just down the street. So I went with my ADC and we walked not very far -- again, it's within two hundred meters -- and pounded on the gate, which was a light blue painted steel. The gate opened and to my surprise there was a man standing there with a U.N. vehicle right behind him. And I said "What are you doing here?" And he said "I received information and I came here in regards to the compound, the VVIP, and also simply coming in to assist or look at the situation."

I don't know how those instructions and stuff got to him, but he ended up there. He was a Senegalese officer, Captain Mbaye Diagne that was used a lot in passing information from one side to another. He had been behind the government lines for his work with a team of observers inside the city, and had been noticed by his courage already. I mean this guy would do things that other guys wouldn't do, and so he would take on missions that other guys would not necessarily look at. …

They showed me where the killings had happened. … [The prime minister] and her husband were killed but the children had been hidden and the extremists hadn't been able to find them… I said that I would try to get an APC to them as fast as possible so that they could evacuate the children and move them to a safe place. …

The UNDP staff, permanent staff, and some locals were living in this compound. There were about five, six houses all connected in the compound with a fairly decent yard, all walled in, with the back wall being the wall adjacent to the residence of the prime minister. She had jumped by a ladder over the wall with her husband and children to run from the assault that had been done on the Belgian troops earlier that morning. And, again, what's also surprising is that none of the Belgians followed her. There job was to protect her, and so she sort of escaped but none of the Belgians moved with her in protection at all. And certainly none of the Rwandan gendarmerie or military did either. … The people there, the UNDP people, had protected her and had hidden her and the children and her husband and all that, but later on that morning, in the second round, the extremists pounded in over the wall and found her and her husband. You could still see in the house where they had thrown a grenade. There was damage inside the big living room there, and there was blood-spots outside where they had been killed. And these same UNDP people had protected these children and hidden them. And Diagne appeared in this same scenario and participated in that. It was never really clear exactly how he did it or anything, with everything else going on, but he was participatory in this exercise. …

I've heard a lot of stories about what Mbaye did. What did you know about his rescue missions, beyond the prime minister's children, during that month of April to May?

He was part of that particular group of U.N. Military Observers, unarmed, that … on their own initiative would go to places where they were told people might be hidden, and they would get them out and bring them to either the Hotel Mille Collines or another safe place that we had. Diagne was one of those leaders in that. He was courageous and risk-taking. And there were a few other guys that were all the same. …

Were they operating beyond the mandate?

I had no mandate. U.N. had not given me it. I got orders on the 22nd of April, which is already over two weeks into the civil war and the genocide. But during that whole time there was no formal mandate. In fact they were trying to pull me out. And so we were operating by what we felt was right and what we could do, and it was under my instructions of what we can do that we used whatever forces that were willing to do things… .

I lost control of many of the U.N. observers around the country because a lot of them simply took off into the neighboring countries. …These guys didn't move. This heart of observers, the gang that stayed at the Mille Collines, Diagne was one of them -- there were about fifteen of them -- they stayed and they operated. Others did some. Others were observers in specific points. But apart from that the bulk of the force had been rendered inept in what it could do.

… These groups were responding to local demands, but then, pretty fast, within days of the start of this and the evacuation of the expatriates -- all these white people, businessmen, abandoning the nannies who had raised their kids for years, with bags full of (certainly not) clothes, even bringing their dogs on the aircraft, [which is] against the rules. Running to the goddamn aircraft; running to the trucks to save their bums, and abandoning the ones who had been loyal to them for so many years … and a lot of them were Tutsis too. So we started to get these calls from New York … from here, there and everywhere, for us to go and save such and such. …

You mean specific people.

Absolutely, yeah. … Now there was probably remorse while they were sitting in Paris drinking their wine, so they got through channels to try and get us to save them, to pull them out. Other ones were very honest requests; like we saved a whole bunch of nuns from different religious orders. … Some of them were NGOs that were very worried about their local staff because that's all they had on the ground. But a lot of them were also friends of people of influence and power who could put the squeeze on the U.N. who could put the squeeze on me to go get them. So we were getting, both verbally and in writing, requests like from [Riza] and the like, to send guys to go find these people and try to save them. …

These guys were often unarmed, running through barriers, and then having to pick up these people and hide them in the vehicles to bring them through, because if the extremists found in any of our U.N. vehicles people like Tutsis and so on that we were protecting, then that was it. Every vehicle would be searched and all my people would be at risk. The risk was worth it to try to save people, but it became so abusive. I mean, Brent was managing at one time over 600 people on a list of special requests to help, and I got to the point that I told [them] in New York, "That's it. My people are being burned out and risking their lives, and sometimes nobody's there." It became a real difficult ethical problem for me. Why am I saving them more than anybody else, and why am I risking the lives of my observers and my staff to get them out more than anybody else? And so I entered into a debate about whether or not it was right.

We also had another dimension that all of a sudden came into this: the extremists had caught on to this, that we were at least going around and looking for people. And so what they would do was they'd go to places where they suspected had Tutsis or people hiding, and they would come in and tell people there, "This is the U.N., we're here to save you," and all this kind of stuff. And people would climb out of the sewers or out of the ceilings and they'd slaughter them. That was the case, in fact, for the family of Kagame himself, who had put in a request for us to go [help them]. The guys went there, nobody was there. But they were seen going there. And so they came back and I said "Well, try again the next day," because we did attempt that, too often. And when they came the next day they were all slaughtered, all lying on the ground slaughtered in the house. So it started to get like, "Hey, are we helping people or are we guaranteeing them being slaughtered?" …

How did you receive word of Captain Diagne's death and what happened?

I can't remember specifically [how I heard]. Diagne was so well known because he had done so many of these rescue missions and he had also been delivering written correspondence between the Mille Collines hotel and … the headquarters. … He was bringing some information across and he was stopped at a barrier … and while he was there, stopped, a very large mortar round landed beside the vehicle, and of course destroyed the vehicle and killed Diange instantly, as best we could determine. By the time we were able to get there and evacuate him he was dead. But some of the correspondence had his blood on it. The correspondence made it through -- he didn't. …

There was a ceremony at the airport for Diagne's body being taken out? I heard that you helped carry the coffin to the plane.

Yes. We didn't have a coffin. … We didn't even have body bags. We took sheeting that is used for the internally displaced and refugees, to put on their huts to protect them from the rain, and that's all we had. So we had a ceremony inside the airfield terminal, and then we carried the stretcher with this light blue covered body into the Hercules aircraft. … It was a very, very low point. [He was] an incredibly courageous individual amongst others who were strong and courageous, but he seemed to be untouchable. … It was a low point.

What did, however, keep us going was the fact that the Canadian Hercules aircraft … were assigned so that if we did get injured, or any of my troops got injured, they'd have a chance of surviving. I had no medical capabilities, and so we could get them back to Nairobi fast enough to save them. And that became a very, very significant factor in the continued courage of the troops. … The sound of the engines of the Hercules became the lifeline. And without those Hercules I would have had to close down the whole damn outfit because there was nothing else coming -- nobody else. …

Tell me about Philippe Gaillard.

Now there is an absolute guardian angel of the world community, I think the purest of what one expects the Red Cross to be: courageous, determined, gutsy, brash, an intimate leader, very close to his troops, to his people, will not back down, argumentative, pig-headed, but the heart of an angel. Humanity for him is all humans.

You two have a bond.

… When the war started he was a pillar. Everybody ran except him and his small band that not only stayed but established that ad hoc hospital, and that continued to face down the extremists who were trying to get into the hospital to kill the injured Tutsis. … Philippe Gaillard, who's not very tall-- He's a very slight man, skinny, not muscular but wiry, and he would face these guys down. And they'd back off. …

Ultimately he lost something like 56 nationals who worked for the Red Cross. The old ambulances would be stopped and the extremists would simply kill the drivers or the assistant there from the Red Cross and then just pull out the injured out of the ambulances and just kill them right there on the spot. So he was taking several casualties, yet they never wavered. ...

Philippe maintained an energetic but controlled rage. He was determined to do it. And right from the early moments of the war, when it was evident that he was staying, our personal communication took a much stronger bearing. I became very concerned about them and their situation.

And so I asked him to join my net of our communications and to listen in all the time, so he can keep abreast of what's going on, and to intervene whenever he felt he had to or he needed stuff. Pretty well every night we'd do a radio check, just the two of us, saying, "Are you there?" "Yeah." He became a reference for me, of staying and of determination. …

I noticed in your book you talked about a meeting [where Gaillard was asked] how many people did he think had been killed so far, and Gaillard said something like over 200,000. This was May. And as Gaillard told the story, you said, "Philippe, that's an exaggeration. It's nowhere near that high." Do you remember that?

Yes. At the start we knew it was massive, but there was no easy instrument of computing that. And although there was massive killings, the scale was difficult to comprehend. But my assessment was dead wrong. Gaillard had better data on what was going on. …

But what later on became worse is the fact that the impression I was getting from New York … was that a lot of them thought, or argued that the bulk of the killing had been done. And, in fact, by then we had come to grips with the scale and the killing was still going flat out. There may have been two or three hundred thousand killed, but ultimately they were way into the six, seven, eight, hundred thousand scale of people being killed. Some people say an intervention would have been useless because they were all dead. They weren't all dead. They were still being killed and slaughtered by the thousands and thousands. And so that became a point of contention. And the argument was ridiculous. It's just like the argument around the term "genocide." I mean it's a useless argument. Human beings are being killed in the thousands, it could be in the hundreds of thousands. You don't need the term "genocide" to decide to help other human beings. In fact, once they finally agreed to using the term genocide it did absolutely nothing, it changed nobody's perspective in any way, shape or form that brought any result on the field. On the contrary, the arguments were that the killing was over now, so is the deployment really so essential?

That whole exercise of numbers became a great perversion, because ultimately you don't need four thousand bodies to say that we've got a real problem. And the proof of that is that how many people died in that market in Sarajevo? Sixty? The whole damn world got really concerned, and the western world mobilized everybody they could to respond to that. … It was just an absolute perverse exercise of developed nations using excuses of sovereignty and nationalism and involvement and self-interest, to argue the way around one of the most fundamental premises: Are these people human? Do you have a capability? Then why aren't you doing something? Why is it that the black Africans sitting there being slaughtered by the thousands get nothing? Why is it when a bunch of white Europeans get slaughtered in Yugoslavia you can't put enough capability in there?

There were more people killed, injured, internally displaced and refugeed in less than a hundred days in Rwanda than the whole of the Yugoslavian six or seven years of problems. I couldn't keep nor reinforce my small force, even feed it, and they were pouring tens of thousands of troops into Yugoslavia and billions of dollars of aid, and they're still doing it. …

[During the killing] where were you living and what was your routine like? Did you shave everyday? Did you try to make sure you were well dressed in your uniform and cleaning it up everyday? How did you try to keep a routine in that kind of chaos?

… I'd had "prayers" at 7:30 in the morning.

Prayers are what?

Prayers is when I bring all the staff together and I do that twice a day, morning at 7:30, and in the evening, I think it was around 6:30. In the morning I'd get the intelligence briefing of what we knew that happened that night from wherever, and then we'd go over things that we had to do for that day. And then my staff and supporting commanders would tell me where they're at and what their needs are. Then the one in the evening was a review of what had gone on during that day and then the anticipation of the next days coming down the road, plus more on the higher plane discussions, which is not just what's coming out tomorrow, but what's coming down the road. …

There was a lot of feedback provided voluntarily by the media because of our very open scenario -- I wasn't restricting them from anywhere. The odd meeting I'd have of course with my inner staff, but I mean outside of that they could go and we'd support where they'd want to go. They would come in to the headquarters area, the operation center, and they'd look at the map to bring themselves up to scratch, and then they'd say, "No, here's something that I saw there." Or, "No, there's another refugee camp here." We got a lot of the data from them. … And then in return my ops officers told them what was being planned and where I'm at with negotiation and stuff like that. …

And you needed [the media] to help get your story out.

Yes, in fact it became quite clear within the second week that the idea of reinforcement was being destroyed left, right and center. I mean from the Belgians who were pulling out telling Boutros-Ghali to get the whole damn lot of us out, through to in fact the Security Council discussions that barely touched on reinforcement. … There was nothing positive coming. Absolutely nothing positive coming to us except more and more people worried about their troops, worried about people they know and trying to get as far away as they could from Rwanda. Except the media. They were in a totally different mode. …

It became clear that the only weapon I had left between me and the whole rest of the world were the media. And a weapon that was not for me to manipulate because I didn't have to do that. What I did is facilitate. They were there. They were looking for those stories. They wanted to bring out the guts, the gore and the evil and the continuum of this terrible civil war and genocide and I just made whatever I could available to them. … There was no way that people could turn around and say, "We didn't know, we didn't see it, we couldn't understand it." Because the stuff was being plastered as much as it could. However, it is interesting that ABC, CBS and NBC in the United States put more air time to Tanya Harding trying to kneecap her competition than they did to the genocide, all going on at the same time. …

Let me talk to you about the RPF's intentions in April. You write in your book that Kagame made it very clear that he wouldn't support a U.N. intervention.

Absolutely. … Kagame or the RPF did not recognize that interim government that was set up by the extremists. They did not want in any way shape or form to give credence to that outfit. So they did not want to negotiate with them, because once they negotiated with them it would give them credence. … Secondly, Kagame continued to argue that any troops pulled off the line on the government side would be used to exacerbate the killing scenario. … Thirdly, Kagame's aim, as he stated, was to stop the killing behind the government lines. The only way he saw he was able to do it was conducting an outright civil war, or war between his army and the government army. Winning on the ground would permit him to be able to stop the killing. …

Kagame did not want an outside force that would stop his advance and potentially enter into negotiation; that would mean that while we're negotiating killings could continue to happen behind the other line. And so to me he was continuing a strategic aim of more and more taking ground. … They made it quite clear. Not only did they not want an intervention force, but they would take action if such an option was presented. …

Now there could have been, in behind all that, a plan to actually take over the whole country … and reconstitute a responsible government in which the Tutsis would have a responsible position and so on. … Did he want to take the whole country? Well, that was not evident. But it did come evident a little later on, because at one point he had a very defensible line … that went north-south and essentially divided the country in nearly two. …

He told you that if the U.N. or any other outside intervention force came in to directly intervene in the war that the RPF would fight that.

Yes, it would consider it as a force of belligerence, and as such it was totally unacceptable to them and yes they would take them on.

Tony Lake -- when I mentioned that you'd written about this in your book, he said "Well, this is kind of difficult to say, but maybe the best thing to do really was to just let these guys fight it out. The best way to end the genocide was to not intervene and to let the RPF win the war."

Well, that's certainly consistent with what they actually did. … To say that the best thing was to do was to let them fight it out, is actually condoning the government forces in doing not only the fighting on the line, but continuing to let happen the killing and slaughtering behind the line. But ultimately that's what the Americans were aiming for. They didn't want to get involved. And so that's exactly what happened. They fought it out and one side lost and 800,000 people were slaughtered. …

How do you feel now when you hear U.S. senior officials -- Clinton, Albright, others -- talk about Rwanda? Of course Clinton went and apologized--

He didn't apologize.

Well, it was couched as an apology.

No, no. He went to reinforce the blackmail on the Rwandans. … When he was there in `98, he said, "Oh, I didn't know. We didn't realize." I've got all those quotes and stuff, which are outright lies. They knew, it was there as information, and it is evident that that information was either at his level or stopped within the structures. But the Americans knew what was going on inside there, and [it's awful] to go and excuse yourself -- the Belgians did the same thing -- in front of these people. The Americans scuttled any initiative to bring about a force to be able to save hundreds of thousands. How can they look at this guy and accept an apology?

But worse than that is that the Rwandans need American money. They need Belgian money to reconstitute themselves. What option do they have regarding Clinton coming in there and trying to excuse himself? Throw him out? No. Embarrass him? They gave him a bit of a hard time, but that was insignificant to what was deserved. These great leaders who go to these countries and ask for excuses, that's sort of like trying to get rid of the blood on their hands. Really what they're doing is imposing that on those people, blackmailing them to accept these apologies, so that it satisfies the people back home that we brought closure. "I went there and in humble statements I demonstrated that we had failed and that we are sorry about it." Bullshit. I have no time for any such actions. There is no respect of the people. I mean it's crass to actually be able to go there and say that. …

Could something like this happen again?

In my pessimistic mood, I'd like to use the example of Diane Fossey and the mountain gorillas in the northwest of Rwanda. I have this terrible feeling that if some outfit wanted to go and slaughter those 300-odd gorillas, that today people would react with far more consternation than they would if they started killing thousands of black Africans, Rwandans, in the same country.

I do not believe that the developed world actually considers Africans, particularly South Saharan Africans, as being total humans. I still feel that they consider them as children, as reactive to extreme emotions, and that sooner or later even the more developed ones you'll have a coup d'etat or something else and they'll go into [mass killings]. Now there's enough examples to prove that, I'm afraid. However, what I find sad is that it's sort of stated as an excuse to not get involved. It's sort of habit. …

Let me ask you about a meeting you had with Kagame. He had asked you why you didn't do more. Do you remember that?

…The mainstream argument was that [my] forces were simply not capable of conducting any of those operations. … They didn't have the resources, they were not structured for that, and our countries did not mandate them to do that, because within twenty-four hours, countries were already telling the troops not to do anything.

But that question being asked by Kagame does not surprise me, because it is the same type of question he asked of the moderates. Why didn't you do something, why didn't you react, why didn't you build a force to do something? The moderates would say, "Listen, we don't have loyal units; they're all infiltrated and on top of that our families are exposed to being slaughtered and killed also." Kagame would refuse those arguments; of course his family was safe somewhere else. Elements of his extended family were in Kigali, but he was working from a very secure base. …

So the question it doesn't surprise me that it was asked at the time, sure, but the fundamental premise was -- is -- those soldiers, one, didn't have the capabilities, two, did not have the mandate and, three, were being restrained from doing anything by their own nations. And so I did not have the capability of ordering them to conduct offensive operations.

The other thing is the only ones who could conduct it in any significant way were the Belgians. The Ghanaians could have done it, but they were limited. They had no transport or anything like that and they had next to no ammunition. We had no defensive stores, I had no secure base like he had in the North and those were the premises under which I took those decisions.

In his interview, Gaillard applauded Captain Mbaye Daigne and other people, but he said if you really want to save people masses of people you have to deal with the people who want to kill them.

Absolutely, absolutely. Take 'em head on, break their back, wrest the initiative from them, keep them off balance. … But you don't do it with the concepts of diplomacy, the concepts of neutrality and impartiality that exist today.

Talk about your meeting with the Interahamwe.

…I had to crack the nut of the militias, because it was evident they were dancing to a different drum. And so I asked Bagosora, I said listen, let me meet these guys, let me negotiate with them, because he was doing it, or the chief of staff of the army was doing it and I kept getting it second hand or third hand. I said, "I'll meet with them and we'll talk face to face and then we'll sort this out, hopefully."

So Bagosora established a couple of these meetings, but the first one was in the Diplomat Hotel that had been partially bombed out, that was used as the extremist headquarters in Kigali. … Bagosora brought me and there were these three guys, three Rwandans, one tall, one medium and one smaller who stood up when I entered. Bagosora introduced them and as I was looking at them and shaking their hands I noticed some blood spots still on them. And all of a sudden they disappeared from being human. All of a sudden something happened that turned them into non-human things.

I was not talking with humans, I literally was talking with evil, personified, maybe in those bodies and in those eyes. But they weren't human. And what was coming out of their mouths wasn't human. They were so proud of now being into discussions with the general from the U.N., and that gave them great personal prestige, and they were [elated at] this situation that they found themselves in. But everything that was coming out was not words of a human negotiating or discussing, it was evil blurting out their positions and their arguments. I didn't see humans anymore, I was totally overcome by the evil. These three guys just brought it into reality, brought evil into reality and by my religious background, the only way I could qualify that was being the devil. That son of a bitch had come on earth, in that paradise, and literally taken over. And these three guys were the right hand people of Lucifer himself, Bagosora. And I couldn't shake that.

… My instinctive reaction had me starting to pull my pistol, because I was facing evil. I wasn't facing humans I was facing something that had to be destroyed. … It even became a very difficult ethical problem. Do I actually negotiate with the devil to save people? Or do I wipe it out, shoot the bastards right there? I haven't answered that question yet. What if I'd killed them? Objectively their structure was such that if I'd wiped out these three guys the structure would have sustained itself and then I would have put the whole lot of us in guaranteed danger of being wiped out. But for a long time I felt that I wouldn't have been killing humans, I would have been actually destroying the devil.

Can you talk about the personal impact that all of this has had on you?

Like veterans of other wars and other conflicts … you are affected by not only what you've experienced, but as a commander even more you're affected by the decisions you took, or didn't take, and as such have a significant level of guilt, of responsibility, particularly when the whole scenario has failed. I came back with and still live with this enormous guilt. I was the commander, my mission failed and hundreds of thousands of people died. I can't find any solace in statements like I did my best. … A commander can't use that as a reference in any operation. He succeeds or he fails and then he stands by to be held accountable. My mission failed and that's that.

…The old theory of "you work hard and with time you forget" is a false statement. What you do is you remember the stuff in digitally clear slow motion. It's a matter of how you handle it, and how intrusive it is and what sort of prostheses you have that prevent you from falling into these bubbles of terrible depression, losing your objectivity totally and moving you even to suicide. …You want to hide, you don't want to see people, and you find solace in all of a sudden being in that bubble, even when that bubble is leading you to try to kill yourself. In fact, there's enormous solace because the pain of killing yourself is nothing compared to the pain of living with this, and it's only by flukes and by chances that some of us don't actually do it. My suicidal attempts were based on booze. I starting falling into these depressions, and I'd just drink and drink and then I'd cut myself or try to jump off things, but more often than not that was totally ineffective because I was pissed to the gills. It's only that and people checking up on me that prevented me from killing myself. … I'm not the man I was, and never will become [him again], but hopefully with some drugs or medication that I take, just like someone who's got diabetes takes insulin, to keep me stable … -- that will be my life.

Given everything, are you glad you took the job?

Absolutely. Never ever a doubt. My whole life was to command, … to be given missions, to accomplish missions -- of course accomplish them with the minimum amount of casualties or destruction, and with success. I've never ever even pondered that if the opportunity was given to me again would I do it, even knowing what's going on, because I'd say to myself I'm sure I will be able to change it. …

Gaillard, and others who respect you, thought you've taken too much on yourself, too much responsibility.

… I don't think so. I cannot argue that I did the best I can, and yet all those 800,000 or so were killed, three million were displaced or injured or refugeed. I cannot find solace nor logic in saying I did the best I can, now I have to carry on.

Rwanda will never ever leave me. It's in the pores of my body. My soul is in those hills, my spirit is with the spirits of all those people who were slaughtered and killed that I know of, and many that I didn't know. … Fifty to sixty thousand people walking in the rain and the mud to escape being killed, and seeing a person there beside the road dying. We saw lots of them dying. And lots of those eyes still haunt me, angry eyes or innocent eyes, no laughing eyes. But the worst eyes that haunt me are the eyes of those people who were totally bewildered. They're looking at me with my blue beret and they're saying, "What in the hell happened? We were moving towards peace. You were there as the guarantor" -- their interpretation -- "of the mandate. How come I'm dying here?" Those eyes dominated and they're absolutely right. How come I failed? How come my mission failed? How come as the commander who has the total responsibility-- We learn that, it's ingrained in us, because when we take responsibility it means the responsibility of life and death, of humans that we love. …

There is no "I'm sort of pregnant." You are or you aren't. And in command there is no "sort of in command." … My failings, my inabilities, not taking advantage, lack of skills -- all of it is there. What could I have done better, well, we can discuss that for hours. But there's one thing for damn sure: I was in the field, I commanded, I did not convince, I lost soldiers and 800,000 people died. And there's no way of taking that away. …

home · introduction · analysis · interviews · timeline · rwanda today · video
the responsibility to protect · discussion · producer's chat · links & readings · press reaction · tapes & transcripts
credits · teacher's guide · viewer's guide · privacy policy
FRONTLINE home · wgbh · pbsi

posted april 1, 2004

FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of wgbh educational foundation.
photo copyright © antony njuguna/reuters
web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation