Brussels, 15 May 2007 (FH) - Belgian Colonel Luc Marchal, former second-in-command of UNAMIR, explained at the trial of Bernard Ntuyahaga that in spite of the rules of engagement of the United Nations he had ordered his soldiers to return fire in case they were threaten.
But the ten Belgian peacekeepers had been disarmed on April 7, little before 9 a.m., before being taken by Ntuyahaga to the military camp of Kigali where they were killed.
"I said and repeated that safety came first. One which feels unsafe uses what one has at one's disposal and one discusses it afterwards. It was against the rules of engagement, but I assumed my responsibilities", explained Marchal. "It was often a dilemma between the safety of the men and that of those which we were protecting; it was the choice between the plague and cholera"
In 1997 a Belgian military court dismissed the charge of homicide due to a lack of prevention and precaution in the death of the peacekeepers against Colonel Marchal.
In his testimony, which lasted all of Monday, he recalled that "nobody ever imagined that something had to be done to rescue the Lotin platoon since nobody knew, except for some, that they were in the Kigali camp".
He only received in the morning of that day information detailing that a "Major of the FAR had disarmed and taken the peacekeepers to a UNAMIR base", without knowing if it was Bernard Ntuyahaga.
"As far as I am concerned, it was only after noon that the "Kigali camp" was pronounced to me", he specified. He explained that, on April 7, the following day of the attack against the plane of president Habyarimana, many problems arose at UNAMIR, and that the situation of the peacekeepers, on his level of command, was "only one among others".
Pointing out the "ridiculous" means of the U.N. mission, he refuted to have underestimated the situation of the peacekeepers: "If we had adopted an aggressive attitude with respect to the FAR (Rwandan Armed Forces), we would have became a protagonist in the conflict. And we did not have the means for that"
According to him, since February the Rwandan authorities showed the desire to cooperate with UNAMIR. "We were in a situation where there was no reason to fear a tragic development" for the peacekeepers, he said.
When Belgian politicians, following the assassinations of the peacekeepers, decided to withdrawal their contingent, Luc Marchal stated that he informed his superiors that "it was going to be a blood bath".
"I thought that to leave like that amounted to desertion. I was well aware we were abandoning innocent people to die. In hindsight, one isolates the case of the ten peacekeepers, but it is all of UNAMIR that was confronted with a situation to which it could not face. However our duty was to help the Rwandan authorities so that the country did not sink into chaos.
© Hirondelle News Agency