Silent rebel bears Rwanda's tragic burden

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VALENCE said nothing when he came back to the car. I caught his eye and smiled and he smiled back politely. There was no hint of anything wrong.

Valence and Lieutenant Frank Ndore were our guards and guides in our journey through Rwanda. Chris, the driver, was a Ugandan. Lt Ndore had been wounded three times in fighting and had lost a thumb. He talked about the battles he had fought and the comrades who had died, but Valence, who spoke little English, said nothing. Earlier that day a car door had slammed on his fingers, visibly crushing them. They were badly bruised but he simply flexed them a few times and said nothing. For the next hour he seemed the only one not concerned with his fingers.

But as we approached his village the young soldier became animated. Like many young Tutsis, Valence had left home when he was 16 two years ago to join the Rwanda Patriotic Front and fight to overthrow the tyranny of President Juvenal Habyarimana. He had not been back since. Now that the RPF had liberated his home area he had a chance of seeing his parents again.

Suddenly he shouted. He had spotted an old schoolfriend in the road and we pulled up. As he jumped out the girl screamed - it was unclear whether she was delighted or thought she had seen a ghost. They embraced and then spoke quietly together. Lt Ndore told us she was a Hutu. 'Yes, despite what the world thinks it is possible to have such friends and live in peace together,' he said. After a few minutes Valence returned. His face showed nothing. 'Are they OK?' I asked.

Valence and Lt Ndore exchanged a few words in Kinyarwanda then Lt Ndore said: 'All his family are dead.'

We drove on in silence. I looked for a flicker of emotion but there was none. Later we learnt that his parents, two elder brothers and the two youngest children had been hacked to death by the Hutu militias. Two sisters had survived. Eventually we found them in a house near the hospital at Rwamagana. Both had horrific machete wounds in their heads but they were alive. Valence shook hands with them and exchanged a few words. Then it was time to go. He shook hands again and got back in the car.

I asked Lt Ndore to ask Valence if he wanted revenge but he dismissed the suggestion. 'Don't ask. Everyone in this country has such a tragedy. If there was revenge, there would be no future. He is a soldier. He is disciplined and he will never cry whatever you do to him.'

Later Chris, the driver, said: 'There is nothing for him to do now. But he will show his feelings when he fires his gun in battle. When he meets his enemy he will be merciless.'

(Photograph omitted)