12.04.08 - RWANDA/GENOCIDE - GAPAGASI (70): THE MAN WHO HAS SURVIVED ALL RWANDAN KILLINGS

Gugesera, 12 April 2008 (FH) - Seventy-year-old Gabriel Gapagasi has miraculously survived all massacres of ethnic Tutsis betweem 1959 and 1994 in his native Bugesera, a region south of Kigali and where the Rwandan government this year chose to mark the 14th commemoration of 1994 genocide.
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Gapagasi was an active member of the royalist party of the Rwandan National Union (UNAR), whose majority of members exiled themselves abroad in the 1960's.

"In 1963, the army killed almost everyone, from Gako to Kukandenze... but I have miraculously survived, including the 1994 genocide", explained the perplexed old man. The allusion was made to his arrest and his death sentence in 1963.

"Regarded as "Inyenzi" (derogatory word used to refer ethnic Tutsi); I was arrested 22 December 1963, two days after my marriage. I was questioned by Major Tulpin and Alexis Kanyarengwe at the national police force. Sentenced to death, I was transferred to the central prison in Ruhengeri to be executed there. Death did not come. I was rather transferred to the prison of Gitarama, four years afterwards. I was released on 12 July 1985 after a presidential pardon ", he recalls.

During these 22 years of detention, Gapagasi has not forgotten the torture and inhuman treatment he endured. "They deprived us of food for several days; they poured soup on floor and told us to lick it like dogs. Or, they told us to eat one another. Or, they squeezed our private parts to make us suffer. It was horrible," he recounted.

One of his great regrets are the deaths of his former companions-- Gatera, Segikwekwe, Bujuri, Bikonjo and Muyango-- all killed during the 1994 genocide.

"The only one left [of the group] is old Gregoire Hitimana, an employee at the parish of Nyamata!" he told Hirondelle Agency.

For the old man, life must go on. After having lost his two wives and seven children in 1994, he remarried. He has a wife and a five-year old child. But luck was not on his side.

"We have contracted HIV/AIDS ... But I am not worried because despairing is worse than AIDS. I have always had hope in life", he said courageously.

"Some misfortune is good," he adds. "During my detention, I learned tailoring, shoe-making and hairdressing. That makes me live, in addition to my gardening activities".

Old Gapagasi gets up and standing, says proudly: "Life must go on, because even Kagame [current Rwandan president] gave me a cow".

SRE/PB/MM/SC

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