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Dallaire defends Rwanda memories Add to ...

Romeo Dallaire described his testimony at an historic Canadian war crimes trial as part of an important mission after he watched thousands of Rwandans fall to the machete in the 1994 genocide.

"I will never let the Rwandan genocide die," Mr. Dallaire testified Wednesday at the war crimes trial of Desire Munyaneza.

Defence lawyer Laurence Cohen gently probed Mr. Dallaire's memory and accusations that the former general chose the Tutsi side in a civil war that turned into the horrific Hutu-led bloodbath that killed between 800,000 and one million people, mostly Tutsis.

Mr. Dallaire gave detailed explanations of the situation on the ground as he struggled with his ragtag United Nations force to make peace between determined, unified Tutsi rebels and a severely divided Hutu government and their murderous militias.

Mr. Dallaire struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts after the disastrous mission and now copes thanks to medication and therapy.

He said testifying was worth the stress.

"No matter the personal impact, it's an act of duty," Mr. Dallaire said after his testimony ended.

"I consider it my duty as a citizen of Canada and the world. I want to make sure that Rwanda and its genocide are never forgotten."

Mr. Munyaneza, a former Toronto resident, is charged with genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes for his alleged role in massacres and rapes in Butare, Rwanda.

Mr. Dallaire never encountered Mr. Munyaneza. But the man who now sits in the Senate was called to establish the wider context of the organized, ethnically based mass slaughter.

Mr. Cohen tread carefully as he tried to establish that atrocities were carried out on both sides of a regional war between Hutus and Tutsis that spilled beyond the borders of Rwanda.

The aim is to establish legal definitions of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in the first landmark case under Canada's 2000 genocide law, Mr. Cohen said.

"General Dallaire's relevance to my client is somewhat limited in that here's a general sitting in Kigali, my client was in Butare," Mr. Cohen told reporters after court was adjourned.

"We're not questioning the hundreds of thousands of deaths, but we're talking about legal definitions in this first test case of this type in this country. Legal distinctions are important."

Mr. Cohen admitted he treated Mr. Dallaire differently than he might have approached other witnesses.

"At the end of the day, when the general has limited relevance in our trial, you show appropriate respect and deference," Mr. Cohen said.

"General Dallaire was doing an impossible job with a scarcity of provisions and troops. It's easy to look retrospectively."

Mr. Cohen began by questioning Mr. Dallaire's memory, suggesting the trauma of the bloodbath might make it tough for him to remember details.

"On the contrary," Mr. Dallaire said in the witness box at Quebec Superior Court.

"Post-traumatic stress disorder hard-wires events in your brain to the extent they will come back in digitally clear detail to your brain.

"You don't actually remember them. You relive them."

Mr. Dallaire was discharged from the military a few years after the 1994 mission for having PTSD.

Mr. Dallaire admitted he was a neophyte at international field command when he took on the UN mission in 1993, despite more than 30 years in the army.

He also said Rwanda's Hutu-led government questioned the impartiality of his UN mission, saying he was sympathetic to the Tutsi minority and its rebel army.

Mr. Dallaire recalled how people perpetrating massacres, mainly by machete, seemed detached from the slaughter.

"It became completely depersonalized," he said. "It was like cutting fruit for them."

Mr. Dallaire also described how most developed nations refused to contribute troops to the mission from the outset and when the massacres began.

Western countries that did contribute significant numbers tended to be former colonial masters in Africa that were there for their own interests.

Several hundred Belgian troops left shortly after the massacres began when 10 of their soldiers were killed.

Later, the French sent troops who mainly seemed concerned with allowing Hutu and militia leaders to escape advancing Tutsi rebels, Mr. Dallaire said.

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