One Rwandan Refugee Sees No End to Her Living Nightmare With AM-Rwanda, BjtSHAWN POGATCHNIK , Associated Press
Jun. 23, 1994 2:26 PM ET
KIGALI, RWANDA KIGALI, Rwanda (AP) _ A few months ago, Jeanne d'Arc Niwemutesi had a husband, four children and a good job as a secretary at the U.S. Embassy in Kigali.
Then came the war. In the panic of the brutal attacks, her husband fled from her, and she from her children. Now she spends her nights inside the Ste. Famille Roman Catholic Church, alone in a sea of lonely people, waiting for ''the people who kill people'' to decide it is her time to die.
''It is a dangerous thing to speak to you, to speak of how things are here. The government does not want the outside world to know anything of this place,'' said the gentle, 34-year-old, sitting on a pew inside the church.
The church's aisles are lined with ragged sheets and unwashed bodies. Its roof was holed by a bomb blast.
Staying at Ste. Famille refugee camp in central Kigali has meant a death sentence for hundreds of people - no one knows how many hundreds - already.
The camp in and around the Catholic church remains home for about 1,500 frightened refugees, most of them members of Rwanda's Tutsi tribal minority, who have been targeted for extermination by gangs of Hutu extremists.
Those who remain are nominally guarded by government soldiers who mind the main entrance. Often, however, the soldiers let in Hutu militiamen who seek out victims - sometimes the educated, often the young men, but always the Tutsi.
Officials estimate militias have killed about 200,000 people, mostly Tutsis or Hutus sympathetic to them, since the ethnic war flared in early April.
''Here since Saturday they kill about 200 people,'' Niwemutesi said. ''They ask what tribe you are. They take them from this building, this church. They have guns and knives and machetes, the people from the government party, so we can't fight back. We don't have arms.''
She has escaped the militiamen so far by hiding in nooks and crannies of the complex, or at other times by paying them bribes. ''I am lucky, in that I have something to give besides my life.''
Young and old, the Tutsi faces gather around Niwemutesi by the dozens as she speaks to her flak-jacketed visitor. Most cannot understand the English conversation, but in their eyes you see desperation receding into some sort of dim hope: Rescue could be at hand.
Niwemutesi, too, catches the spirit. She wonders if her visitor might alert the American government that she is alive and here.
All over Rwanda, local people who worked for international companies were abandoned by their employers when the war erupted in April. They had hoped to be treated the same as their Western colleagues, but in the frenzied early days of the war were left off the evacuation lists.
Belatedly, as news of massacres by retreating government troops and militias shocked the world, the United Nations launched evacuation efforts for refugees holed up in hostile territory.
A U.N. convoy evacuated about 300 people from Ste. Famille amid scenes of panic Monday as hundreds more tried to rush aboard the U.N. vehicles. Heavy rebel shelling of the capital since then has prevented further rescue efforts.
Each time any refugees escape from the complex by day, the militias take their revenge at night.
''This place is nightmare for me,'' Niwemutesi said. ''We have nothing to eat. The people who come to kill people have taken everything. You must give them what you have, or they kill you.''
She was separated from her two boys and two girls, aged 6 to 11, early in the war when militiamen came to abduct her from her home. A Hutu friend hid her. She hasn't seen her children since.
Nor has she seen her husband, who saved himself. She doesn't blame him.
''My husband is a Hutu. He couldn't fight for me. He was afraid they kill him, too. I don't know where he is. ... I am a Christian. I must forgive.''
During the visit to Ste. Famille, rebel mortar shells fell all around the camp, but people paid little notice. U.N. military observers believe that more than 40 refugees were killed last Friday when rebel mortar shells landed inside the camp as part of an otherwise successful raid to free about 600 others.
''We are frightened of the bombs,'' she said, pointing to the hole in the roof of the church that has been her home for two months.
''But we are much more frightened of the people who kill people.''