Arusha, 20 July 2009 (FH) - Ten people, including an Italian Catholic Priest, Father Mario Falconi, were publicly honoured on Sunday in Kigali by survivors and Rwandan officials for having saved ethnic Tutsis during the 1994 genocide, reports Hirondelle Agency.

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Father Falconi, who still works in Rwanda, saved more than 350 people whom he succeeded in hiding in his parish church in Muhura (eastern Rwanda), according to state Radio Rwanda on Monday.

Father Falconi said during the occasion that he had refused to be evacuated to Italy because he wanted to remain near the people that he was protecting.

"I refused to take the plane (...) I was only doing my Christian duty", said the priest, expressing himself in Kinyarwanda on the airwaves of the radio station.

The Rwandan Minister for Sports and Culture, Joseph Habineza, said that Father Falconi "is more Rwandan than Priest Athanase Seromba", who was sentenced to life in prison by the Arusha-based International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Tanzania.

A vicar in the Nyange parish (western Rwanda) during the genocide, Father Seromba was found guilty of having ordered the demolition of his church which buried, in its collapse, nearly 2 000 Tutsis who had sought refuge there.

This recognition was within the framework of a ceremony organized by Ibuka, the main organization of survivors, to end, as every year, the 100 days of the 1994 genocide.

On Thursday, the executive secretary of Ibuka, Benoit Kaboyi,  told Hirondelle Agency that the closing ceremony of the mourning period aimed not only at "denouncing the cowardice of certain Rwandans and certain foreigners, but also, to highlight the bravery of the people, those with modest means for the most part, who saved human lives during the genocide".

Whereas the government observes every year a week of national mourning which begins on 7 April, Ibuka (remember in Kinyarwanda) extends the mourning until July-- the entire period that the genocide lasted.


© Hirondelle News Agency