By John Connor.
In the days leading up to AnzacDay 1995 a small group of Australian troops displayed a special kind of bravery. While working at the Kibeho refugee camp in southern Rwanda, they witnessed the Rwandan army carry out a revenge attack on Hutu refugees, some of whom had taken part in the Rwandan genocide of the previous year. The Australians could not stop the massacre, but they courageously continued to work under fire to save as many civilians as possible.
A small, mountainous country in central Africa, Rwanda is populated mainly by two ethnic groups: the minority Tutsi and the majority Hutu. When the Belgians ruled Rwanda the Tutsis held a privileged position. When the country became independent in 1962 the Hutus gained power, and many Tutsis were forced to flee to neighbouring Uganda.
In April 1994 negotiations to end a Hutu–Tutsi civil war broke down when the president of Rwanda, who supported the peace plan, was assassinated. Hutu extremists then perpetrated genocide on Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Half a million Rwandans were killed in a little over three months. At Kibeho, as throughout the rest of the country, the Hutu militia attacked the village church, blasting holes in the walls with rocket-propelled grenades and murdering about 3,000 people who had sought sanctuary inside.
Innocent people were dying in their thousands, but the international community did nothing. The genocide ended only because the Tutsi rebel army, the Rwandese Patriotic Front, defeated the Hutu government and took power in July 1994.