KIGALI - Rwanda's President Paul Kagame, while leading commemorations marking the 25 anniversary of the genocide that killed hundreds of thousands of people, issued a stern warning to anyone planning to destabilize the country.
“For those from here or from outside who think our country has not seen enough of a mess and want to mess with us, in defense of those children you saw and our nation, I want to say, we will mess up with them big time,” Kagame told thousands of people gathered to remember those killed in 1994. “We claim no special place, but we have a place to claim. The fighting spirit is alive in us. What happened here will never happen again.”
Tensions have been mounting between Rwanda and Uganda in the lead-up to commemoration of the genocide that began April 7, 1994, and lasted 100 days.
Rwanda accused Uganda of supporting groups opposed to the government in Kigali. Uganda rejects those accusations.
A frequent guest to commemoration events, Uganda President Yoweli Museveni was absent this time. He was represented by his foreign affairs minister, Sam Kuteesa.
“We are the last people in the world who should succumb to complacency. The suffering we have endured should be enough to keep our fighting spirit alive,” said Kagame.
The commemoration began with lighting of the flame and laying of wreaths at the Kigali Genocide Memorial, where close to 250,000 remains were buried. In all, about 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered by ethnic Hutu extremists.
Honore Gatera, coordinator of Kigali memorial center, said the flame was a symbol of the courage and resilience that Rwanda has shown for the past quarter of a century.
Twenty-five-year-olds representing a new generation of Rwanda handed over the flame, which will burn for the next 100 days, to Kagame. "This is a light of remembrance, the light of life,” one youth said.
The president thanked countries that have stood with Rwanda through its journey of reconstruction.
“On a day like this, when language fails, the first words that come are words of gratitude. To you, the friends by our side on this heavy day, including the different leaders present, we say thank you," he said. “In 1994, there was no hope, only darkness. Today, light radiates from this place.”
Kagame also paid tribute to foreigners who helped survivors and later died, too.
“Joining us today are families from other countries, whose husbands, fathers, sisters and aunts were claimed by the same deadly ideology,” said Kagame. “The only comfort we can offer is the commonality of sorrow and the respect owed to those who had the courage to do the right thing.”
Notably absent from the commemoration was French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country stands accused of aiding the genocide. Macron proposed an annual day of commemoration for the Rwanda genocide on Sunday, according to AFP.
The French delegation was led by Herve Berville, a Rwanda-born member of Parliament who was orphaned in the genocide.
Belgium, which colonized Rwanda, was represented by Prime Minister Charles Michel, who admitted the country's partial responsibility in the genocide.
Michel said genocide was a failure of the international community. He said he was moved by the courage, resilience and empathy of the Rwandan people.
In a tweet, British Prime Minister Theresa May wrote, “Today I am reflecting on the thousands of lives lost in the Rwandan genocide 25 years ago. This was a tragedy and it remains as important as ever to make sure such atrocities are not repeated.”
Sunday’s ceremonies marked the beginning of 100 days of commemoration.