The author of the book «Rwanda, 13 mai 1994. Un massacre français?» (“Rwanda, 13 May 1994. A French massacre?”), Serge Farnel, journalist and writer who has thrown himself into the French-Rwandan file since now ten years, gave us an interview centred on his last book.
It was recently released in French language, published by Aviso/L’esprit frappeur.
His book narrates the circumstances under which the terrible massacre of civilians Tutsi of Bisesero occurred on May 13th of 1994. Above all, it relates the active and direct participation of white, French soldiers, to this massive slaughter.
(Web site of the book in French language:www.rwanda13mai1994.net)
IGIHE: Where did the wish or the idea to write this book «Rwanda, 13 mai 1994. Un massacre français?» come from?
Serge Farnel: It’s more of an obligation then a wish or an idea. It is more like a duty. In 2009, a rescapee started to tell me a part of the history of the genocide which targeted the Tutsi in Rwanda, an episode which I haven’t heard about since then: the presence of white soldiers in Bisesero, in the west part of Rwanda, on the 12th of May 1994.
We can’t forget that French soldiers were not supposed to be in Rwanda between the 15th of April and the 22nd of June 1994.
But in May, we are in the very middle of the genocide, more importantly the day before the big massacre of Bisesero.
This was something that I just couldn’t ignore. I had two choices: I could keep it for myself, go about my day and have a drink in front of the Kivu Lake, and just forget about what I had been told, or I decide to start an inquiry.
I must say that it is easier to start an inquiry than to keep it to yourself. Why? Simply because I am very curious. I wanted to make sure that I had understood correctly and make sure the first witness was not confused especially about the dates.
I wanted to know whether France had been able to reach such a point. It would be a moral fault to hear such a thing, then to do something else as if you had not been told anything.
I can’t see myself coming back home to Paris with this information pretending not to have heard it, that would have made my life miserable. This is why I didn’t really have the choice.
Now I wonder whether I would have preferred not to be told anything. The work consisting of building this book has been very difficult.
IGIHE: Why has the development of this book been difficult?
Serge Farnel: First of all because an inquiry is a long process. You must gather all of the information in Rwanda and then take very detailed steps as to sifting through all the data.
Secondly because there is a language barrier: all the interviews have been carefully verified by other interpreters before being included within the appendix of the book.
You also have to work on all the other sources linked with this file in order to evaluate the possible cross checking as well as the contradictions.
Also there is an astonishing skepticism trend appearing as soon as you discover something. While using this verb “discovering”, I can’t help making little digression to remind us about the fact that you only discover what you first do not know.
One cannot perceive that you can bring new elements to a file on which investigators have already worked on years before.
This is something really common in history of discoveries! So you bear the brunt, you work, you record witnesses, you count up who trusts you, who knows better History than the ones who lived it on the ground, who honestly wish to discover it, and you confide in these that you trust.
IGIHE: Tell me about the date of 13th of May 1994. Why is it the title of your book?
Serge Farnel: It corresponds to the big massacre which took place on the hills of Bisesero, west of Rwanda.
We estimate about forty thousand Tutsi civilians were massacred here between the 13th and the 14th of May 1994, most of them having been killed on the 13th of May.
This slaughter had obviously always been known. What is new is that white soldiers were, close to Rwandan soldiers, directly part of this slaughter, by opening fire with the help of heavy weapons at the Tutsi civilians.
The Tutsi people were surrounded by the Hutu, who were under the orders of the militia men (the Interahamwe), who in turn had been trained by the French.
This massacre had several steps starting with the soldiers firing heavy weapons, then firing machine guns. The Tutsi who succeeded in escaping could not escape to the Hutu who had previously surrounded them and who then could kill them.
Fire was then being stopped a while, time for them to finish off the wounded. This process may have been repeated the same way on all the hills of Bisesero, for example at Gititi, Kagari or Nyiramakware.
IGIHE: There is also the preparation of this slaughter you mention in your book.
Serge Farnel: Correct. It happened on the day before, namely the 12th of May. Let’s give details of this. Before this massacre, it was necessary to locate where all these people were in order to deploy to the right place.
What better strategy than to go to them and promise to bring them back food, covers, and medicines? This way, not only will they know where they are, but it would get them to come out of hiding.
On the 12th of May, the white soldiers went to the hills of Bisesero in order for them to win the trust of the Tutsi.
They organized a staging during which the latter attended a parody: the Hutu people were stopped on their walk to Bisesero by Rwandan soldiers in the presence of these white soldiers.
These Hutu people had just been ordered to go where was to take place this staging. The goal was to persuade the Tutsi that they had not to worry anymore in the presence of these Whites.
All this is explained in details in the book.
IGIHE: In your book, you say the witnesses have had confidence in you. Why did they rely upon you that point?
Serge Farnel: I indeed strongly felt this confidence. Before all, there is something human in these interviews. Those things can not be explained. Here is what I think: they probably may have become aware of the fact that I really wanted to understand, that I would not only half-listen to them.
I would not let them talk an hour long, but we would be both part of a real discussion. This has been my method. They probably appreciated the accuracy of my questions which must have shown them the interest I had in their History.
You do not ask such accurate questions without being well informed about it.
I was also asking questions that must have shown them that despite the new information that they told me, I was knowledgeable about the situation of the region during the genocide: for example the names of the hills and of some shopkeepers (they must have asked themselves how I could know their names) and events so accurate that they must have understood that I already had deeply studied their history.
In truth, I wasn’t going in with any preconceived notions. I was listening and asking relevant questions trying to get to the truth.
I often questioned them with contradictions to their stories, they never took offense to this because they knew I was trying to make sure that what they were telling me was accurate.
IGIHE: There is also these about fifteen French soldiers having been present at mid-May 1994 in Gishyita, close from Kibuye, which interests me. Who was behind this organisation which was going to prepare for the arrival of others soldiers in the Turquoise zone?
Serge Farnel: We have now enough witnesses for us to understand that French army was behind this organisation. Rescapees only talk of "white soldiers", knowing that they are of course not able to know that these white soldiers they saw on the 12th and the 13th of May were French.
The genocidaires can tell they were French. In the book, there is also a witness pointing out the link between these men of the 13th of May and those of Turquoise.
Thus the question consisting of asking ourselves whether these French soldiers of the 13th of May were mercenaries or not is a false question.
It is a lure aiming at making us think that the big question would still not be solved.
Classic. Do you think that French soldiers would have fought close to Rwandan soldiers on the 13th of May without the private military chief of staff of François Mitterrand (French president) being informed? Let me remind you, is it really necessary, that an emissary from the Rwandan army (Ephrem Rwabalinda) was at the same time in Paris with the French general Huchon.
They were organizing the delivery of an encrypted phone in order for Huchon to be able to speak with the military chief of staff of the Rwandan army. At the same time, the Rwandan soldiers were, along with these French soldiers, massacring the Tutsi civilians of Bisesero. We also have other witnesses that my publisher is cross-checking and who confirm it clearly.
IGIHE: Is your publisher pursuing the inquiry?
Serge Farnel: Absolutely. It is co-published by Aviso and l’Esprit frappeur. There is Michel Sitbon (L’esprit frappeur), a real incarnated consciousness. He is a visionary.
He is always one step ahead. When I came back with the first filmed witnesses telling this direct participation of French soldiers to the genocide, I felt like I was wasting time showing him all of these witnesses because he quickly understood the situation.
Aviso is managed by Bruno Boudiguet. A fantastic guy. Both of these men gave me the courage which was needed to finish the work and include what I had been told within History.
Bruno is pursuing the inquiry. And he will go to the end! I can tell you. He is worst than I am in terms of determination. That will enable me to have a break. Just to let you know: last summer, he went to Rwanda, and got new witnesses which confirmed this active participation of French soldiers to the massacre in Bisesero the 13th of May.
But be aware of what is following: he discovered that this story had already been told 18 years ago! But was not said publicly.
Here is what happened: my publisher wanted to know more on a massacre that had taken place during the genocide in Karongi, not far from Bisesero.
Even if the subject was not the very one of Bisesero, he decided to show my book to one of the witnesses who immediately told him he knew about this story concerning the participation of white soldiers to the massacre of the 13th of May in Bisesero, but not recently: he had known it 18 years ago ! Indeed, a rescapee had already told him that at that time.
My publisher succeeded in finding this person who happens to be a direct witness of the massacre of the 13th of May.
He filmed him, the witness relating with details the story that I had first been told in 2009. It shows that it is by chance that eventually this story will not be told to only a few people.