Rwanda on Tuesday began commemorations marking 20 years since its genocide, with a flame of remembrance due to make a nationwide tour ahead of the anniversary of the horrific events of 1994.
The flame was to be lit at the main genocide memorial in Kigali by Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo, before embarking on a tour of towns and villages in the central African nation, ahead of a period of official mourning that begins on April 7, officials said.
"The flame will be carried by young people," Freddy Mutanguha, country director for Aegis Trust, one of the organisations helping to prepare the lighting ceremony, told AFP.
The flame will for three months be carried from place to place by vehicle and then paraded on foot through each town or village, he added.
An estimated 800,000 people, essentially from the Tutsi minority, perished in the genocide, carried out by Hutu extremist militias and troops in the three months from April to June 1994.
Most of the masterminds of the genocide have been tried at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda set up in Arusha, Tanzania, with the backing of the United Nations.
A further two million ordinary Rwandans were tried in grassroots courts known as "gacaca" for their alleged role in the killings, with some 65 % of the accused found guilty.
A further aim of the gacaca courts was to get local communities to overcome years of silence and to discuss what had actually happened in their villages during the mass slaughter. (Pic on right : This picture taken on June 6, 1994 shows a Rwandan child crying as it sits in the dirt in a refugee camp in Ruhango, some 50 km from the Rwandan capital Kigali. AFP, ABDELHAK SENNA)
Beginning this month, memorial activities will start at both the grassroots and national levels, leading up to April 7 when the national mourning period will begin, on the date the slaughter began two decades ago.
The week starting April 7 is already a period of mourning each year. National television shows footage of the genocide, Rwandans wear purple, which is the colour of mourning, and survivors wash and re-bury bones that had been consigned to shallow graves.
Candlelight vigils are held and films about the 100 days of killing are shown.
Activities for the 20th anniversary will include discussions on Rwanda's national identity and on the progress the country has made since the genocide, which destroyed its social and economic fabric.
This picture taken on June 16, 1994 shows Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) soldiers walking past the corpse of a woman killed by the pro-government militia before the city fell to the rebels on 14 June. AFP PHOTO / ABDELHAK SENNA
According to the National Commission for the Fight Against Genocide (CNLG), the 20th commemoration will feature countrywide events aimed at cementing memories of the genocide, fostering reconciliation and reflecting on the progress made afterwards.
"Twenty years after the genocide is an important milestone," Jean de Dieu Mucyo, the executive secretary of the CNLG told a press briefing earlier this week. "There is a lot that will be done to reflect on the past 20 years."
Planned events include a conference in early April attended by leading academics on the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide and the renovation of genocide memorials dotted across the country.
This picture taken on July 8, 1994 shows a seriously wounded Rwandan refugee man following hundreds of other displaced people near the city of Gikongoro. AFP PHOTO / PASCAL GUYOT
Rwanda has taken huge strides forward since the end of the genocide, which was stopped by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), then a rebel movement and now the ruling party. Its leadership has been championed for its economic reform agenda and clampdown on corruption.
The regimes's detractors, however, accuse the RPF of President Paul Kagame of clamping down on dissent and committing numerous human rights abuses.
This picture taken on June 27, 1994 shows French soldiers on patrol driving past ethnic Hutu troops from the Rwandan government forces near Gisenyie, about 10kms from the border with then Zaire. AFP PHOTO / ALEXANDER JOE