The young who kill without a qualm: Hutu militias patrol the roads of Rwanda, but with the Tutsis in control of Kigali and Butare, their days could be numbered

DARK GLASSES cannot hide what Rwandans call 'a killer in the eye', that frosty, pitiless look worn by those who can beat a woman to death with a club or take a machete and chop a child to pieces with the indifference of somebody splitting firewood.

The killers congregate at roadblocks under the lush hillsides, feeling safety and power in numbers. They check cars and pedestrians, looking for rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) infiltrators or members of the country's Tutsi minority, which for these men are one and the same.

They operate under the noses of the French intervention forces who were sent to protect the very people that the killers are searching for. They are numerous in an area of the south-west that the French have declared a 'safety zone' for civilians fleeing RPF advances and extremist militias.

Since the slaughter in Rwanda first hit the headlines last April, these young men have become known in the shorthand of daily journalism as 'Hutu extremist militias'. More rarely have they been identified by one of their official names, Interahamwe - often translated as 'Those who attack together'.

'The name comes from an old song,' said one Rwandan and broke into a melody. 'Rise up Rwanda, you are supported by Interahamwe, those who join together in common cause.'

Jacques is 27 and a former civil servant from Kigali. He is soft-spoken and well-dressed. He is now living with relatives in Cyangugu near Rwanda's southern border with Zaire. He does not seem the sort of person capable of murder but he has personally killed at least 10 people and was a member of a group that tortured and murdered dozens more.

His proof of Interahamwe membership is a card decorated with a red, green and black border and bearing the logo of the former ruling MRND party of President Habyarimana. 'Before the president's death the Interahamwe was only the MRND youth wing. We were just young people, not militias. Originally we were not together for fighting but for thinking,' Jacques said.

It was a small step from 'thinking' to genocide. The death in a suspicious plane crash of President Habyarimana on 6 April was the pretext for the militias to launch an orchestrated campaign of killings against Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Jacques was there.

You killed entire families?

'Yes. They were RPF members.'

Women and children too?

'Yes, everybody was killed because if one escaped he could join the RPF and come back and attack us. In some cases children were spared and were taken to the Red Cross. But if their father or brother was an RPF member or supported them, the whole family was killed. Even the children.'

Do you feel sorry that you killed Tutsis?

'No, I can't say that I feel sorry.'

Revulsion at Jacques' testimony is tempered by the awe for the sheer audacity of what the Interahamwe tried to do. Their aim was to exterminate.

Current wisdom has it that what is happening in Rwanda is the result of a political war, devised by the anti-Tutsi Hutu extremists from the late president's entourage who nurtured the Interahamwe and trained them in the art of killing with grenades, spears and machetes.

But politics is only part of the story. Events in Rwanda have been driven by ethnic hatred picked up over centuries when a small Tutsi aristocracy ruled over Hutu farmers.

When the Belgians took control of Rwanda in 1919, the Tutsis - taller and more European in appearance - were feted while the Hutus became a majority second-class. As independence approached, however, the Belgians shifted their allegiance and a Hutu uprising in 1959 settled old scores. As many as 100,000 Tutsis were massacred and 200,000 more forced to flee. The children of those Tutsis formed the RPF and, since 1990, have been fighting, not for a complete takeover, but for the right to return home and share power.

At the heart of the Hutu justification for their actions of the last three months is the unshakeable belief that the Tutsis want to return to the domination of the past. This collective mind-set owes much to four years of government propaganda that painted the RPF as murderers and the Tutsis as their instruments of death.

In the first weeks of slaughter, Jacques and his group were egged on by extremist radio broadcasts which told Hutus 'When you kill the rat do not let the pregnant one escape. We made the mistake 30 years ago of letting them flee into exile, this time none will escape.'

The legacy of the years of propaganda is a blurring of fiction into fact. 'In Kigali there were Tutsi and some Hutus who had prepared themselves with guns and machetes. Then they started to attack Hutus. It was only then that the Rwandan military, the parties and the youths understood that we had to defend ourselves,' said Jacques.

'From that moment we began to search houses. Every time we found weapons in a civilian house we asked them to explain what they were doing with weapons. If they could not explain we put them in the holes that they had prepared.'

These holes, according to Jacques, were 3ft in diameter and 90ft deep. The physical impossibility of digging such a shape with handtools mattered little to Jacques. He was sure that they existed and had no doubts as to their purpose. 'It wasn't a toilet or anything else. Those holes were for Hutu bodies. It was part of the Tutsi plan to kill the Hutus.'

Today, Jacques and many other Interahamwe youths have retreated with the civilians now seeking French protection. The recent battlefield success of RPF has done little to force them underground. If anything it has only concentrated them in the shrinking government controlled areas of western Rwanda, where they seek more victims to appease their anger and mollify their fear.

And they are angry and afraid. Defeat has been breathing down on them since the RPF took Rwanda's capital, Kigali and its second city, Butare, last week.

Suggested Topics
News
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
people
Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

Sport
football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
News
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
News
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister
news

Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and that no-one was arrested

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Voices
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'
voices

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
News
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)
news

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
Northern soul mecca the Wigan Casino
fashionGone are the punks, casuals, new romantics, ravers, skaters, crusties. Now all kids look the same
Life and Style
gaming

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 5 Teacher

£80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...

Software Developer

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...

Systems Analyst / Business Analyst - Central London

£35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...

Senior Change Engineer (Network, Cisco, Juniper) £30k

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album