Burning flame honours Rwanda's genocide horror

A visitor looks a large picture of children victims of the 1994 Rwandan genocide on April 4, 2014 at the Genocide memorial in Nyamata, inside the Catholic church where thousands were slaughtered during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

KIGALI - Singing and softly clapping, snaking lines of Rwandans follow a burning torch, the flame of remembrance for all those who died 20 years ago in the country's genocide.

"We must remember," said Pierre Mwiza, one of the thousands watching as the flame arrived in the outskirts of the capital Kigali, the end of an emotional three-month nationwide journey.

"It brings us together, all of those affected and to mourn our families who died."

On Monday, President Paul Kagame will receive the torch, to light a flame at the haunting national genocide memorial - which custodians say hold the skeletons of up to 250,000 people.

It will burn for 100 days, the duration of the genocide.

"The country smelt of the stench of death," reads one sign at the memorial in Kigali, describing the situation at the end of the 100 days of massacres in which at least 800,000 people, nearly all of them ethnic Tutsis, were killed.

"The genocidaires had been more successful in their evil aims than any would have dared to believe," the sign continues. "Rwanda was dead."

But 20 years later, step away from the memorials and on the surface life appears to have moved on.

A first-time visitor to Kigali's green rolling hills and spotlessly clean streets - so unlike most sprawling African capitals - can struggle to imagine the horrors that devastated the city just a handful of years ago.

Police direct calm traffic that flows steadily on smooth roads lined with neat clipped hedges, and on cobbled back streets, children play outside simple tin-roof bungalows.

'Never again'

At the high end, Hotel des Milles Collines - where more than 1,200 lives were saved when it offered refuge to those fleeing the bloodshed on the streets just outside, a story made famous worldwide by the Hollywood film "Hotel Rwanda" - waiters in crisp white uniforms serve guests in its lush, green gardens.

There is chatter on one table from American tourists recounting their visit Rwanda's gorillas, while from another, sharply dressed men talk business of rare minerals from mines in neighbouring war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo.

A foreign visitor breaks from a cool drink to dive into deep blue water for a swim, an afternoon by the pool in Kigali. But the physical scars are still there, and outside the ordered capital, bones of those killed are still being found.

Some 35 kilometres (20 miles) outside Kigali at the church in Nyamata, site of a horrific massacre and where thousands of skulls are stored in tombs, skeletons dug up by farmers in nearby villages this week were brought for proper burials. And the mental scars remain too.

"Does the memory fade? Of course not," said Tharcisse Gisanura, who sells woven bracelets with the slogan "never again".

"We have lived 20 years, but it cannot be forgotten, indeed, it is so vital it is never forgotten," he added.

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