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Recalling Rwanda's Brutal '100 Days'

Ten years ago, Rwanda's turbulent history of ethnic rivalry entered an unprecedented time of trauma. On April 6, 1994, Rwanda's Hutu president died in a plane crash. Hutus said President Juvenal Habyarimana's plane was shot down by Tutsi rebels as it approached Kigali airport.

The cause of the crash has never been fully investigated, but within hours of President Habyarimana's death, the killing began. Hutu militias set up roadblocks across Kigali and began slaughtering Tutsis. Over the next 100 days, more than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed, primarily by their neighbors. The violence ended in July 1994 after Tutsi-led rebels, under current President Paul Kagame, took control of Kigali.

A decade later, as NPR's Jason Beaubien reports, the country is slowly trying to remember the dead and at the same time move past the genocide. Tens of thousands of people accused of participating in the massacres are in prisons across Rwanda. Most are still awaiting trial. Some of those in prison deny what happened in 1994 was a genocide. They say it was a civil war between the Hutu-dominated government and Tutsi rebels based in Uganda.

But most Rwandans acknowledge their horrific history, and struggle to put ethnic differences behind them. Many, including President Kagame, no longer talk of ethnicity, choosing instead to speak of themselves as "Rwandese."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Jason Beaubien is NPR's Global Health and Development Correspondent on the Science Desk.