Belgium failed to stop Tutsi massacre in Rwanda: lawyer

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Belgian troops left 2,000 Tutsi refugees to the mercy of Hutu militiamen who hacked and machine-gunned them to death at the start of Rwanda's 1994 genocide, a lawyer for survivors said on Wednesday.

The charge was made at the opening of a civil trial in Brussels brought by two genocide survivors against the Belgian state and three soldiers for failing to protect the refugees.

In spring 1994, the Belgian contingent formed the backbone of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda that was deployed to the central African country after a power-sharing peace agreement between Hutus and Tutsis.

But after 10 blue-helmeted Belgian soldiers were killed on April 7, Belgium decided to withdraw from the UN mission and ordered its soldiers to focus on the evacuation of Belgian citizens from its former protectorate.

Four days later, 97 Belgian soldiers stationed at a technical school in Kigali were ordered to go to the capital's airport, leaving 2,000 mostly Tutsi refugees who were there without protection.

The refugees were taken up a hill, where "most of them were killed with machine guns and finished off with machetes shortly after the departure of the Belgians," the attorney for survivors, Eric Gillet, told the Brussels court.

Others such as foreign minister Boniface Ngulinzira, a Hutu who backed the peace accord, were killed as they tried to escape.

The drama was the subject of the critically-accalaimed 2005 movie "Shooting Dogs".

"I want to know why my husband, whose goal was peace between Rwandans, was abandoned by Blue Helmets whose mission was to protect him along with the other refugees," the minister's widow, Florida Ngulinzira, told reporters.

The plaintiffs accused the Belgian government and soldiers of "failing to act" to prevent or put an end to violations of international human rights, a crime recognised by Belgian law since 1993.

The defendants include Major Luc Marchal, who headed the UN mission's Belgian contingent in Kigali in April 1994.

"We were under critical circumstances, with inadequate weaponry," Marchal told RFI radio earlier this year.

"Everybody was dispersed in the city so it was imperative to regroup. We really had no idea at that moment that the fate of the 2,000 refugees was going to be what it ended up being," he said.

Lawyers for the Belgian government and the former UN soldiers will present their arguments on Thursday.

© 2010 AFP

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