Grisly clues to the death of a cleric

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A SMASHED skull, a hat, a heavy wooden club and a small crucifix were brought to Kigali this week by a British diplomat trying to find out what happened to Christopher Mannion, the British Marist brother who disappeared in Rwanda on 1 July.

His death in an ambush has been confirmed by the new government but there are still no clues to how he died or where he is buried. The bits of skull were retrieved from a half-decomposed body in a shallow grave near the burnt-out remains of the car in which Mannion was driving when he was last seen alive. The hat, club and crucifix together with a piece of flex and two rounds of ammunition were found nearby, but Paul Whiteway of the Foreign Office said they still needed to know what happened to Brother Christopher on the night of 1 July.

Finding out may be difficult. Hundreds of thousands of people were slaughtered in genocide in Rwanda in April and May this year and their bodies are buried in mass graves or shallow pits all over the country. It will not be easy to find a single body amid the remains of such carnage.

The 43-year-old Catholic brother from Yorkshire set off in a white Volkswagen Jetta with Joseph Rushigajiki, a Rwandan Marist brother. He had arrived two days earlier, sent by his order to try to rescue members of their community trapped at Save in south-west Rwanda. Most of the brothers were Tutsis and were hiding in a school surrounded by Hutu militias and the retreating government army. The French intervention force had recently deployed into the area and Brother Christopher persuaded them to lend him an escort to evacuate the brothers. They also appeared to have taken two Rwandese soldiers to act as guides and guards and drove towards Save as it got dark. About half a mile from the town, one of the French vehicles had an accident and the French convoy stopped.

Mannion went on and disappeared. His burnt-out car now lies against the hedge with bullet holes in the front and side. The charred body of Rushigajiki was slumped over the wheel, but it appears that the car was set on fire after the shooting. Mannion's prayer book and Bible were intact in the car, presumably replaced after the fire. Nearby are the skeletal remains of a man in the uniform of the previous government army.

According to the Rwandese Patriotic Front, their forces had taken that area hours before and had laid an ambush on that road with orders to shoot any vehicle that approached it. Mannion seems to have driven straight into it. But members of the order sent out from Rome to investigate the deaths were told that he was wounded and had been taken away. His body has never been found and smashed skull, club, flex - often used to tie up prisoners - and burnt-out car suggest an execution. There is no sign of the dollars 3,000 he was carrying. The bones, being kept in a John Lewis bag at the house of the British aid mission in Kigali, may not be the remains of Mannion at all but may give a clue as to how he died.

The new Rwandan government has carried out a preliminary investigation, but it has not solved the mystery of how Mannion died.

Yesterday troops of the new order entered the south-west for the first time, with four liaison officers, escorting officials of the new government moving into the area occupied until 22 August by the French intervention force.

Until now they have been cautious about entering the area for fear of triggering an exodus like that which sent a million refugees into Zaire in July. Nor have the French military been helpful in finding the soldiers who escorted Mannion towards Save.

Mr Whiteway said the Foreign Office and Mannion's order still needed to know how he died and where he is buried.