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Rwanda Holds Conference Aimed at Preventing Repeat of Genocide - 2004-04-04

In the Rwandan capital, Kigali, a three-day conference, aimed at finding ways to prevent a repeat of the horrific 1994 genocide in that country, opened on Sunday. The conference launches more than a week of official events to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the genocide that left more than 800,000 people dead in 100 days.

A gathering of several hundred diplomats, Rwandan government officials, academics from the United States and Europe, and aid agency representatives listened solemnly, as genocide survivor, Fredrick Gachondo, 32, opened the conference at Kigali's new Intercontinental Hotel.

The ethnic Tutsi Rwandan told the audience the story of how he was hunted down by a mob of ethnic Hutu extremists on April 12, 1994.

Mr. Gachondo says he was hiding behind a house when several Hutu militiamen, carrying spears and machetes, came looking for him. He says he knew all of them. They were once his friends and neighbors, but that didn't seem to matter. Mr. Gachondo says the militiamen stabbed and cut him over and over again. Then, they robbed him of his money and left him to bleed to death.

Ten years ago on April 7, Hutu extremists began a bloody, government-orchestrated campaign to exterminate their long-time Tutsi rivals. By the time a Tutsi-led rebel army ended the genocide in July, hundreds of thousands of Tutsis, as well as politically moderate Hutus, had been massacred throughout Rwanda.

With the help of historians, psychologists, sociologists and other experts scheduled to speak, conference organizers say the three-day gathering will seek to understand the root causes of the 1994 genocide and how to prevent it from happening again.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who led the army that stopped the genocide, says the need to find a solution is urgent. He warns the hatred that sparked the killings of Tutsis continues to pose a threat to the country's attempts to form a cohesive, peaceful society.

"The forces and the ideologues responsible for the genocide in our country have been defeated. They have not been destroyed. They still exist. Now, the big question is how can we uproot these forces of evil and ensure they are no longer a menace to our societies?," he said.

Another topic of discussion during the conference is likely to focus on how to get the international community more involved in efforts to prevent genocide in Rwanda and elsewhere in the world.

On Sunday, President Kagame strongly condemned the United Nations and individual Western nations for failing to intervene in 1994, charging that racism may have played a part in their decision to ignore the Rwandan pleas for help.

Late last month, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, who was in charge of peacekeeping for the world body in 1994, accepted institutional and personal responsibility for not doing more to stop the slaughter.