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Rwanda genocide: Man and victim now friends

Monday - 4/7/2014, 3:28am  ET

In this photo taken Wednesday, March 26, 2014, Emmanuel Ndayisaba, left, and Alice Mukarurinda, recount their experiences of the Rwandan genocide as they sit under a photograph of Alice's father, who was elsewhere at the time and also managed to survive, at Alice's house in Nyamata, Rwanda. She lost her baby daughter and her right hand to a manic killing spree. He wielded the machete that took both. Yet today, despite coming from opposite sides of an unspeakable shared past, Alice Mukarurinda and Emmanuel Ndayisaba are friends. She is the treasurer and he the vice president of a group that builds simple brick houses for genocide survivors. They live near each other and shop at the same market. Their story of ethnic violence, extreme guilt and, to some degree, reconciliation is the story of Rwanda today, 20 years after its Hutu majority killed more than 1 million Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The Rwandan government is still accused by human rights groups of holding an iron grip on power, stifling dissent and killing political opponents. But even critics give President Paul Kagame credit for leading the country toward a peace that seemed all but impossible two decades ago. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

JASON STRAZIUSO
Associated Press

NYAMATA, Rwanda (AP) -- She lost her baby daughter and her right hand to a manic killing spree. He wielded the machete that took both.

Yet today, despite coming from opposite sides of an unspeakable shared past, Alice Mukarurinda and Emmanuel Ndayisaba are friends. She is the treasurer and he the vice president of a group that builds simple brick houses for genocide survivors. They live near each other and shop at the same market.

Their story of ethnic violence, extreme guilt and, to some degree, reconciliation is the story of Rwanda today, 20 years after its Hutu majority killed more than 1 million Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The Rwandan government is still accused by human rights groups of holding an iron grip on power, stifling dissent and killing political opponents. But even critics give President Paul Kagame credit for leading the country toward a peace that seemed all but impossible two decades ago.

"Whenever I look at my arm I remember what happened," said Alice, a mother of five with a deep scar on her left temple where Emanuel sliced her with a machete. As she speaks, Emmanuel -- the man who killed her baby -- sits close enough that his left hand and her right stump sometimes touch.

On Monday, Rwanda marks the 20th anniversary of the beginning of 100 days of bloody mayhem. But the genocide was really in the making for decades, fueled by hate speech, discrimination, propaganda and the training of death squads. Hutus had come to resent Tutsis for their greater wealth and what they saw as oppressive rule.

Rwanda is the most densely populated country in mainland Africa, slightly smaller than the U.S. state of Maryland but with a population of more than 12 million. The countryside is lush green, filled with uncountable numbers of banana trees.

The Hutu-Tutsi divide may be the country's most notorious characteristic but also its most confounding. The two groups are so closely related that it's nearly impossible for an outsider to tell which the average Rwandan belongs to. Even Rwandans have trouble knowing who is who, especially after two decades of a government push to create a single Rwandan identity.

For Alice, a Tutsi, the genocide began in 1992, when her family took refuge in a church for a week. Hutu community leaders began importing machetes. Houses were burned, cars taken.

Hutu leaders created lists of prominent or educated Tutsis targeted for killing. They also held meetings where they told those in attendance how evil the Tutsis were. Like many of his Hutu neighbors, Emmanuel soaked in the message.

The situation caught fire on April 6, 1994, when the plane carrying Rwanda's president was shot down. Hutus started killing Tutsis, who ran for their lives and flooded Alice's village.

Three days later, local Hutu leaders told Emmanuel, then 23, that they had a job for him.

They took him to a Tutsi home and ordered him to use his machete. A Christian who sang in his church choir, Emmanuel had never killed before. But inside this house he murdered 14 people. The next day, April 12, Emmanuel found a Tutsi doctor in hiding and killed him, too. The day after, he killed two women and a child.

"The very first family I killed, I felt bad, but then I got used to it," he says. "Given how we were told that the Tutsis were evil, after the first family I just felt like I was killing our enemies."

In the meantime, Alice's family took refuge in a church, just as they had done before, crammed in with hundreds of others. But this time, Hutu attackers threw a bomb inside and set the church on fire. Those who fled the fire inside died by machetes outside. Alice lost some 26 family members, among the estimated 5,000 victims at the church.

Alice, then 25, escaped with her 9-month-old daughter and a 9-year-old niece into Rwanda's green countryside, moving, hiding, moving. She hid in a forested swamp.

"There were so many bodies all over the place," she says. "Hutus would wake up in the morning and go hunting for Tutsis to kill."

By late April rebel Tutsi fighters led by Kagame had reached the capital and chased Hutus out. Hutu troops began to flee to neighboring countries, and the violence spread, with killings carried out by both sides.

On April 29, Emmanuel joined Hutu soldiers searching the countryside for Tutsis. The attackers blew a whistle whenever they found a Tutsi hiding.

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