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Most Rwandans were unable to get out. For Tutsis and moderate Hutus, their lives became an hourly struggle of survival.

Damas Gisimba
Photo by Stephen Smith

Damas Gisimba, a Hutu, was running an orphanage in the Nyamirambo neighborhood of Kigali

"There were many signs of trouble ahead," explains Gisimba. "Militia groups aligned with the Hutu hardliners and the government was bragging how they would kill anyone who supported the rebel Tutsi army. These militias had been training themselves how to kill ordinary citizens. Although I am a Hutu, they said I was a Tutsi sympathizer because I didn't agree with their Hutu Power ideology."

"The evening of April 6, I was at home. As soon as the news broke out that the presidential plane had been shot down, I immediately left for the orphanage to calm the children.

One of the orphans, Alphonse Kalisa, now 23 remembered what happened, "That night we heard a lot of gunfire. There had been rumors going around that if anything bad happened, the Hutus would start slaughtering us Tutsis."

The international wire services were reporting that Belgian peacekeepers and minority Tutsis appeared to be the object of a killing spree in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda.

Damas Gisimba says that it was clear what was happening. He watched as government soldiers and the militias went door to door in his neighborhood, calling for the Hutus to 'Come out and start your work. The job has begun.'

"And all of a sudden our neighbors who had lived with us for many years started killing people all around us."

The director of the human rights organization, African Rights, Rakiya Omaar, was following the events from northern Rwanda.

"In Rwanda they referred to Tutsis as cockroaches," explains Omaar. "They were not human beings. This is very important to understand, [there are] very close parallels to what happened in Hitler's Germany. [They said,] 'Don't worry, you're not killing humans like you. You are killing some vermin that belongs under your shoe. You're killing cockroaches.'"

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