Screams of agony ripped through the silence that had blanketed Rwanda’s northwestern Mudende refugee camp as darkness fell and hundreds of rebels brandishing machetes, guns and nail-studded clubs descended upon the refugees, most of them asleep under makeshift tents of plastic sheeting.
Rangwida Ugiriwabo watched in horror as her husband and four children were shot to death, then she scrambled for safety inside a nearby bush. But the attackers spotted her feet and began to chop at her with machetes, slashing her heels and severely lacerating her legs. They tried to slice off her ears, but she covered her head with her hands, and her fingers were sliced instead.
Ugiriwabo was lucky to survive. When Thursday’s orgy of violence led by suspected Rwandan Hutu rebels ended 15 minutes after it had begun, at least 270 Tutsi refugees lay dead.
Now the survivors, hundreds of whom were seriously injured - primarily by farming tools - are struggling to make sense of their ordeal and figure out how to continue their already shattered lives. And although many say they would not seek revenge personally on their assailants, they admit they most likely will never forgive them.
“They did not have pity on me. How can I forgive?” Ugiriwabo asked Saturday as she lay on a bed in a makeshift tent ward at Gisenyi Hospital, 60 miles northwest of the Rwandan capital, Kigali, and 15 miles from Mudende. “I am alone. I have no children. My husband is dead.”
Some observers think the cycle of ethnic bloodshed that has dogged this tiny Central African nation of 7 million for decades might never end. Every new attack appears to breed new and intensified resentment.
The Mudende massacre was the latest incident in a stepped-up insurgency campaign in Rwanda’s northwest by Hutu rebels who are presumed to be mostly ex-soldiers of the formerly Hutu-dominated Rwandan army.
These Hutus left Rwanda in droves in 1994, fearing reprisals for the slaughter that year of more than 800,000 people, mostly minority Tutsis, but they returned late last year with more than 1 million Hutu civilians. Many Mudende survivors believe that they were assaulted simply because they are Tutsis by ethnicity.
“It is hatred,” said Rwamucyo Semariba, 44, who together with his wife and four children survived Thursday’s blood bath despite a grenade landing in their hut. “There were also some Hutus in the camp, but they were not attacked.”