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  • Writer's pictureNicoletta Fagiolo

LUC MARCHAL Former Commander of UNAMIR, Kigali sector on RWANDA 1994


Former Commander of the UN peacekeeping mission United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) Kigali Sector

Constrained and obliged to leave Rwandan just as the country was imploding, I returned home to Belgium with many questions on my mind. However, the experiences I lived while working for the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) allowed me to have a closer understanding of certain aspects of the Rwandan imbroglio and to wonder about the duplicitous game which was taking place in Kigali. The way particular events evolved while I was in service will illustrate this eminently complex environment. The underlying trends that emerged will still be present when the Operation Turquoise is deployed at the end of June in 1994.

Shortly after my arrival in Rwanda, at the beginning of December 1993, one aspect became crystal clear. I was forced to acknowledge that my view point on the Rwandan dilemma was truncated, conditioned by a tendentious and partisan media. I evoke this particular aspect from the outset given that it constitutes the major theme of Charles Onana's research. I note, without further comment, that as far as the media coverage is concerned things have hardly changed since.

As a reminder, the role of UNAMIR was to help the Rwandan ruling party and the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) to ensure that the peace process, stemming from the Arusha peace accords signed in August 1993, could be successfully concluded. In this context the parties had agreed on specific provisions for Kigali city and its surroundings. The objective sought was to reduce to a minimum the armaments circulating in this area and to control the movements, as well as the employment of the armed elements. The reduction in the level of armaments circulating was to allow a conducive environment for the establishment of transitional institutions. In other words, these particular provisions constituted the rules of the game that the protagonists had pledged to respect throughout the peace process and my mission was precisely to ensure that they were followed.

I was therefore ideally placed to appreciate the way in which the respective parties were fulfilling their obligations, as well as their willingness to work towards the creation of a new Rwanda, free of its old demons.

With the exception of an incident experienced as the weapons consignment zone was being set-up, the Rwandan national army, known as Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR) was a rather respectful partner concerning the imposed constraints, yet this was not the same for the other side, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). I had expressed this atmosphere in a situation report written at the end of January 1994 as follows: “ [...] a growing radicalization of the RPF is perceptible. EVERYTHING is subject to discussion. Incidents between the Rwandan Patriotic Front and UNAMIR are increasing. Everything is a pretext for confrontation, it is as if the RPF is testing how far they can push the limit. The Chairman ( the president of the RPF, Ed) is not exempt from this paranoia [...].” In short, the collaboration was rather at loggerheads.

If I highlight with a certain insistence this propensity of the RPF to define its own rules of the game, in spite of the official commitments to which it had subscribed, it’s because this non reciprocal attitude on its part is also underlined amply in Charles Onana’s book. On this subject, despite the many years that have gone by, the conversation I had with the Chief of Staff of the Rwandan national army, the Rwandan Armed Forces( FAR) General Nsabimana, just seven days before the 6 of April 1994 attack, comes to memory. That day after a long inspection tour of FAR unit’s tactical positions deployed north of Kigali we agreed on certain measures to improve the compliance of these units with the weapons storage provisions. Having finished that subject Nsabimana informed me in a voice that bore real concern: “I fear that the RPF will begin the war in the next few days. The information at my disposal unfortunately leaves no room for doubts. For several weeks on the border with Uganda they have been building up stocks of ammunition and equipment, in short everything needed to support a military operation.” I replied that it is unthinkable as the RPF cannot afford such an adventure while under scrutiny of the international community. He responded: “The RPF has no use for such considerations. The mistake you (MINAUR, Ed) are making is to think they follow your same reasoning, but the reality is very different. The RPF is a revolutionary movement and it reasons and defines its objectives as such. Against revolutionaries, if you don't adopt the same methods, you will always lose. There is no need I believe to explain further why, given the tragic events that followed a few days later, I cannot forget General Nsabimana’s warning.

A few days before this conversation an event with many implications deeply marked our minds. On the 25 of March 1994 the Transitional Government and the National Assembly were to be put in place. This step was essential in order to effectively start the peace process, which was to end with the holding of free and fair elections twenty-two months later. The diplomatic corps present in Kigali was successfully involved in intense negotiations so as to find a solution for the last two political obstacles that still prevented its inception. At dawn of this day, that many of us considered historic, an imposing security device was deployed: six hundred UNAMIR blue helmets and Rwandan gendarmes so as to ensure the smooth running of the swearing-in of ministers and parliamentarians responsible for the transition period. However, following the RPF empty chair policy, nothing was going as planned and the disillusion felt was equal to the hope we had placed on this day which was to finally allow us to move forward. If the RPF had really wanted to participate in the democratic game, it would have occupied its appropriate place in the political arena. Yet, obviously, such a project did not fit their point of view. This is exactly what head of the UN mission in Rwanda Jacques-Roger Booh Booh said about the RPF refusal: their mask had just fallen off. They had hidden their plans for a long time, but this time things were clear. This party certainly did not want to bring the peace process to a successful conclusion.[i] The RPF’s hidden agenda: another theme that is addressed in detail and meticulously by Charles Onana.

We were in this stalled situation when President Habyarimana left in the early morning of the 6 of April 1994 to participate in the sub-regional summit in Dar es Salaam at Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni invitation. There would be a lot more to say about this pseudo-summit and that day’s program. Or, more precisely, the total absence of any real program, except that of ensuring that the planned return flight, which was supposed to take-off from Dar es Salaam at 5 p.m.[ii], had to be rescheduled. In the end the presidential plane left for its last journey at 7:30 p.m.

We know that around 8:30 p.m. a surface-to-air missile destroyed the Falcon 50 as it was landing, causing the death of both the Presidents of Rwanda and Burundi, as well as their collaborators and crew members. We also know that these first victims were followed, over the years, by millions of others. Such is the cynical assessment of the last twenty-five years during which the most elementary human rights were sacrificed in the name of misguided ideologies, but also in the name of predatory politico-financial interests which putt profit before any other consideration.

Rwanda suffered a double decapitation : it lost its President as well as the head of the army (Major General Déogratias Nsabimana, chief of staff of the Rwandan army was also killed in the attack, Ed). It was precisely at this moment that the RPF chose to launch a major military offensive from its positions in the north of the country. This offensive, totally inconsistent with the Arusha peace accords, will end three months later with a total take-over, devoid of any power sharing.

Let's be clear. It is legally prohibited to take advantage of an opportunity such as the disappearance of a Head of State by improvising a general offensive implementing many units with varying missions. Such an undertaking can only be the result of a major preparatory process, involving the design of a strategic plan, the distribution of orders all the way down to the lowest echelons and the implementation of thousands of men ready to execute orders.

This cannot be organized with the snap of a finger, but on the contrary requires a significant absolute minimum time-limit. One does not have to have taken an advanced military staff course to understand this constraint. It’s a matter of common sense. The fears General Nsabimana shared with me a few days earlier had materialized. The RPF resumed the war and it had all the necessary logistics to support its decisive military offensive.

The day after the attack, at around 4.30 p.m., as the RPF was about to start hostilities in Kigali I heard on the radio General Dallaire clearly urging Seth Sendashonga, a prominent member of the RPF political bureau, not to commit the irreparable and solemnly notified him that if the RPF resumed hostilities unilaterally, it would have to assume the full responsibility for this vis-à-vis the international community.

It is clear that this strategy of deliberate rupture led by the RPF is systematically concealed, whereas it is indeed the cause of the tragic events which transformed Rwanda and then Congo-Zaire into an immense mass grave.

The RPF justified this unilateral decision by the need to put an end to the massacres of Tutsis. An unlikely pretext since its troops had already started their offensive in the north of the country and this, in the absence of any Tutsi aggression. The diabolical machine was set in motion. All requests for a ceasefire formulated by UNAMIR or the FAR, in order to put an end to the killings which were multiplying in the capital and to stop a genocide in the making went unheeded. It was as if the RPF feared being forced to put an end to its plans to come to power by force of arms.

This fear was clearly expressed by the pugnacity with which the RPF authorities demanded the departure of all foreign troops who had come to evacuate the expatriates, rather than requiring their collaboration to stop the carnage in its tracks. Once again, General Nsabimana was right: the RPF was waging its war in accordance with its sole objective (of regime change Ed.), without caring in the slightest about the fate of the local population. This systematic refusal on the part of the RPF to concede the slightest ceasefire will persist until its final victory in July 1994. Another theme Charles Onana develops in Rwanda, the Truth about Operation Turquoise.

At the beginning of this preface, I alluded to the unanswered questions that stayed with me following my Rwandan deployment. Here is a concrete illustration. It’s the 8 of April 1994 at around 9 am, barely thirty-six hours since the attack on the presidential Falcon plane was perpetrated. The US ambassador in Kigali, David Rawson, tells me that the Americans are going to evacuate its citizens from Rwanda and asks me to provide him with escorts to supervise the column.

The next day at around the same time, David Rawson tells me that his column is formed and ready to leave. I confirmed to him that the escorts would arrive shortly. This time I inquire about his final destination: Bujumbura by road, he told me. Really dubious, I point out to him: What do you mean? You will never arrive alive in Bujumbura! To which he responded: Do not worry at the slightest problem 250 rangers and attack helicopters are on standby in Bujumbura, ready to intervene. Needless to say, this answer startled me. As a military serviceman I am fully aware that in order to be able to intervene on the morning of the 9 of April the detachment in question must have already been in place before the attack.

This American presence, before the 6th of April was effectively confirmed in 2012 by Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira's security chief, Déo Ngendahayo. He also specified that this detachment was set up without any prior request addressed to the Burundian authorities and that it left two weeks after the attack without providing the slightest explanation. What was the role played by the United States in the events that threw Rwanda into chaos? Today thanks to the damning testimony of US parliamentarian Cynthia McKinney we know a little more about the real involvement of the Clinton administration in this crisis.

Beyond this testimony we now have the equally overwhelming conclusions of Charles Onana's research.

Rwanda, the Truth about Operation Turquoise was born from Charles Onana’s doctoral thesis[iii] in political science brilliantly defended in December 2017 at Jean-Moulin University, Lyon III.

The author develops therein, as in this book, an all-round historical and political analysis intended to resituate Operation Turquoise in a broader context, extracting it from the Franco-French confinement where some are determined to maintain it. The methodology followed contrasts drastically with the ready-made ideas about the tragic events in Rwanda which, like slogans, have been repeated for now more than twenty-five years.

Indeed, the Rwandan conflict still suffers from a reductive, even simplistic reading. Therefore, research and scientific interest in this field are amply justified given that since 1994 we can note not only a lack of substantive debate on the issue that is the subject of this book, but also a marked ostracism with regard to those who have the audacity to challenge the official factual doxa.

Operation Turquoise has been and still is the subject of virulent criticism for its supposed hidden objectives (support for the FAR and the interim government, halt to the advance of the RPA, exfiltration of the genocidaires), while the official documents available on this particular aspect of the events of 1994 demonstrates that Turquoise complied exclusively with the humanitarian character defined by Security Council Resolution 929. Paradoxically, despite the recurrent attacks made against the French political and military authorities, we note the total absence of a methodical and in-depth research of a scientific nature on the operation itself. Hence the evident interest and relevance of Charles Onana's approach.

The themes developed in this book are subjected to a rigorous confrontation between the way in which they were exposed in the main stream press and official documents or testimonies of the main protagonists actoring in the frontline at the time. As a safety net for this contradictory analysis and in order to eliminate any doubts as to the real motivations of the main actors, the military strategy applied on the ground is also taken into account. This approach is a real breakthrough on the part of the author elucidating the entire period in an innovative light, with the necessary scientific rigor.

Indeed, by analyzing the military strategy the real intentions of those who designed it is exposed, since the implementation of ground troops has no other purpose than that of achieving the desired politico-military objectives. This meticulous analysis allows Charles Onana to highlight the different aspects of the Rwandan tragedy and also its direct corollary: the invasion of Congo-Zaire, aspects which have not been apprehended in their true dimensions by the media or which have been by some actors knowingly presented in a biased way. In doing so Onana has done work that deserves consideration and that constitutes a real contribution to a more correct understanding of the Great Lakes Holocaust.

It is to be hoped that his research will be followed up by academic studies in related fields, such as much-needed work on the absence of an international investigation into the 6 of April 1994 attack or the absence of prosecution by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda or other international law venues, against the RPF/APR officials for war crimes, crimes against humanity, even genocide, duly corroborated by various UN reports (Gersony report, Garreton report, Mapping Report by Navanethem Pillay).

We are grateful to the author for having defended the honor of the soldiers of Operation Turquoise that some are determined to smear for obscure reasons. Finally, beyond this immense research work carried out, let us salute the perseverance and courage shown by Charles Onana for many years. The role of whistleblower, particularly in the field he explores, is not without risk. May his quest, in order to reposition historical truth where it should be, allow that the millions of victims of a clique of war criminals not disappear forever into the dustbin of history.

[i] BOOH BOOH, J.-R., Le patron de Dallaire parle, Paris, Duboiris, 2005. p. 115

[ii] For security reasons the return of the Head of State was always planned during daytime. [iii] Rwanda: l’opération Turquoise et la controverse médiatique (1994- 2014). Analyse des enqueétes journalistiques, des documents secret défense et de la stratégie militaire.

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