Saturday, July 07, 2007

Memorial - Plus Jamais Ca!

On the road between Bujumbura and Gitega is a memorial to the deaths of over 100 Tutsi students who were burned to death on October 21, 1993. The president of their country was assassinated that day and war broke out.

People of the Hutu tribe lashed out against the Tutsis. The high school students were driven into an auto repair garage and trapped in there. They thought they were escaping from their assailants, but soon found that they could not get out. Their enemies threw gasoline and fire into the building and burned them alive.

One student, Gilbert Tuhabonye, escaped, lived to tell about it, and wrote a book, This Voice in My Heart.

The site includes the building where the students were burned. They have made a cover over it to preserve it. The memorial next to it has large letters on it "Plus Jamais Ca!" - Never again this!

The day of this massacre was the beginning of years of fighting between the two groups. Burundi is the country south of Rwanda. They were both colonized by Belgium and have the same tribal make-up. The genocide broke out in both countries broke out at the same time. Rwanda had 100 days of intense killing, then followed by a few years of follow-up fighting, but they started the re-building and peace process sooner than Burundi. Burundi signed their final peace treaties just three years ago. Our state department still lists it as a country that we should not visit.

As we walked through the burned garage, we felt very eerie. I suspect it was something similar to what people must feel as they go through the Nazi concentration camps. Americans aren't used to being in surroundings where people are deliberately trapped and murdered.

The suspicion and hopelessness that follows years of war is still evident in the eyes of the Burundi people. We asked those who attended our conference how many had lost an immediate family member .... they all raised their hands.