Rwanda is marking the 10th anniversary of the start of the country's genocide. A somber burial ceremony in the capital, Kigali, launched a nationwide day of commemoration to remember the estimated 800,000 people killed during 100 days of slaughter.
Purple banners emblazoned with the words "Never again" in English and in French greeted arriving dignitaries and heads of state at the new Gisozi national genocide memorial, overlooking the hills of Kigali. The heads of state included South African President Thabo Mbeki, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, and Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.
The only Western leader to attend the burial ceremony was Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt. In recent days, Rwandans have expressed bitterness that many Western countries, which they say deliberately failed to stop the genocide in 1994, were once again ignoring Rwanda by not sending their highest-ranking officials to the commemoration.
Signaling the start of the ceremony, a choir began singing a religious song of finding peace and redemption in Heaven. A procession of 20 caskets followed, making its way down a steep slope to a large concrete tomb at the bottom of the sprawling memorial. The caskets contained the recently discovered and identified remains of nearly two dozen ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus, who were hacked and clubbed to death by ethnic Hutu extremists during three and a half months of ferocious bloodletting in 1994.
More than 300 family members of the victims were on hand to pay their last respects. Many wore purple-colored clothing, the color of mourning in Rwanda. They also carried flowers and framed pictures of their loved ones and bowed their heads as the caskets were gently placed one-by-one in the tomb.
There are the remains of 250,000 other genocide victims buried at Gisozi. Dativa Mukabuzizi, 41, who lost nearly a dozen members of her immediate family 10 years ago to extremist Hutu violence, says the ceremony was a painful reminder of the past.
"I just remembered my family as they were the last time I saw them alive," Ms. Mukabuzizi said. She adds that Rwandans and the rest of the world should learn from their collective pain and never allow another genocide to occur.
At the end of the ceremony, Rwandan President Paul Kagame lit a flame in the courtyard of the memorial site. The flame will burn continuously for the next 100 days, symbolizing the number of terror-filled days the country suffered in 1994.