In the Hutus' murderous campaign against Rwanda's Tutsis, death squads targeted many moderate Hutus as `accomplices' or `sympathizers'
Faustin Hitiyise was walking along the road to Butare, in southern Rwanda, where he and his family had sought safety. Two men with machetes grabbed him. ``They said they did not know me in the region and said I was a [Tutsi rebel],'' says Faustin, a university-educated accountant. ``They put their machetes against my neck and were about to kill me.''Skip to next paragraph
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Faustin, ironically, is a Hutu. So are his wife, Jeannette, and their three-year-old son, Richard. But like many well-educated moderate Hutus, they nearly perished in the slaughter of Rwanda's Tutsis at the hands of their Hutu brethren.
United Nations investigator Rene Degnigui estimates that Hutus killed between 500,000 and 1 million Rwandans in a campaign of genocide against the Tutsis following the death of President Juvenal Habyarimana when his plane was apparently shot down in April.
Many Hutus were also killed, according to the UN report, for being in the political opposition, for being suspected sympathizers with the Tutsi-led rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), or simply for fleeing the fighting in Rwanda. Other Hutus risked their lives trying to save Tutsis.
Tutsis and suspected Hutu sympathizers were hunted down across the country - in homes, fields, and forests. Churches and schools, where thousands ran for protection, were attacked with grenades and machete-wielding gangs, according to eyewitnesses.
Faustin, now safe in a Nairobi hotel room with Jeannette and young Richard, continues his story:
Just as he was about to be killed, two other men emerged from a nearby sorghum field. One had a spear, the other a bayonet.
The new arrivals asked if the would-be killers had looked at Faustin's identity card. But even after Faustin produced an ID showing he was a Hutu, the two men with machetes still wanted to kill him. He must be a rebel sympathizer, they said, because he was a stranger.
Faustin replied that he was staying with a local priest, a well- known man in the area. The new arrivals knew the priest and agreed to accept Faustin's offer of about $2 to escort him home.
``It was a miracle,'' Faustin says.
The men with the machetes walked off. En route to the priest's home, Faustin and his escorts passed other Hutus armed with machetes, clubs studded with nails, spears, and axes.
When he arrived home that night, Jeannette says: ``I thought God made a miracle to save the `father of Richard,' '' as she affectionately calls her husband.
Faustin and his family are now safe in Nairobi. But the dangers they faced in their escape from Rwanda illuminate the hardships faced by innocent Hutus who were threatened by the worst killing spree Africa has ever seen, set off when Hutu prejudice and jealousy were fanned by the government. Hutu extremists, according to the UN, told farmers that the RPF would take their land and promised that Hutus could increase their land by killing their Tutsi neighbors.
Rwanda is one of the most densely populated countries in the world.
Before the genocide, Tutsis made up an estimated 14 percent of Rwanda's population, while Hutus accounted for 85 percent and Twa 1 percent, according to government censuses.
For several hundred years, Tutsis have dominated Hutus politically, economically, and militarily. Hutus rebelled in 1959, and in 1960 won municipal elections organized by the Belgian colonial rulers. Two years later, Rwanda gained its independence from Belgium.
In December 1963, Tutsi rebels attacked the Hutu government, sparking an organized massacre of Tutsis in which some 10,000 people were killed. Many Tutsis fled the country, mostly to neighboring Burundi. Divisions over political power developed between northern and southern Hutus. Meanwhile, a generation or two of Tutsis grew up in exile, waiting for an opportunity to return home.