TWENTY-five years ago today, the presidents of the African countries of Rwanda and Burundi were assassinated in horrific fashion, sparking genocide in the former country. Juvenal Habyarimana, 57, president of Rwanda, and Burundi’s president Cyprien Ntaryamira, 39, were travelling together in the former’s presidential jet when it was blown out of the sky by two surface-to-air missiles.

Both men were trying to end the catastrophic civil wars in their countries, which were both the result of fighting between the Hutu and Tutsi peoples.

Burundi had already experienced near genocide in its civil war but as a strong-arm dictator, Habyarimana had managed to keep his Hutu soldiers from committing outright genocide in the Rwandan civil war which was supposed to end with the signing of the 1993 peace agreement between the Rwandan Government and the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), also known as the Arusha Accords.

There had been slow progress towards peace, and Habyarimana and Ntaryamira had sought help from other Central African leaders.

As the French-built aircraft they were flying was returning to Kigali Airport in Rwanda, it was shot down at 8.20pm local time on April 6, 1994. One missile hit the Dassault Falcon 50’s wing and another hit its tail. The plane exploded into flames and crashed to earth in the grounds of Habyarimana’s presidential palace. There were no survivors.

Who were the victims and who brought down the plane?

APART from the two presidents, there were seven other passengers, including the Rwandan chief of the armed forces and Burundi’s minister of public works. The aircraft’s three French crew also perished.

Despite exhaustive international inquiries, no-one has ever been brought to trial for the murders of the 12 men on board the jet.

Significantly, both presidents were Hutus, and while their assassination may have been carried out by RPF Tutsi fighters, a lot of the evidence – such as the make of the missiles – points to more extreme Hutus who embraced the radical Hutu Power ideology which called for the extermination of all Tutsis.

The RPF, led by Paul Kagame, now president of Rwanda, has been blamed by several investigators but it always denied involvement and the CIA has long stated the attack was acried out by Hutu extremists angry at the peace process.

What was the aftermath?

IN a word, genocide. On the morning after the assassinations, United Nations peacekeepers – many of them Belgian as Rwanda was a former Belgian colony – were rendered helpless as orders went out from self-appointed leader Colonel Théoneste Bagosorato to the Rwandan army to kill Tutsis and moderate peace-seeking Hutus. One of the first to die was the country’s prime minister. The presidential guard killed Agathe Uwilingiyimana and her husband, both moderate Hutus, along with 10 Belgian soldiers charged with her protection.

Other prominent moderate politicians and journalists were also killed within hours – the initial list of targets had been prepared in advance.

Using the pretext of the president’s murder, the interim government formed from Habyarimana’s National Republican Movement for Democracy and Development (NRMD) issued hit-lists to soldiers and militias, especially the fearsome Interahamwe, the party’s youth wing. Tutsi people were arrested and killed on the spot, while many Hutu opponents of the NRMD were also slaughtered.

How Terrible Was The Genocide?

AS an example of man’s inhumanity to man, the Rwandan genocide ranks with the very worst atrocities committed against a people. Reports of the events were so horrific that at first many people outside of central Africa refused to believe what was happening.

It was only after the mass slaughter of Tutsis was featured on television – the internet was in its infancy – and reports of rape, murder by machetes and machine-ginning of entire villages began to filter through that the world took seriously what was happening in Rwanda.

The sheer scale of the slaughter was horrific. In less than 100 days, somewhere between 800,000 and one million people were murdered, and many were injured, often in machete attacks.

Women and children were not spared, and people were often killed after a simple ID check – all Rwanda citizens had to carry ID cards which identified them as Hutu or Tutsi. Lists of those who were condemned to die were read out on radio programmes and the government encouraged Hutus to kill Tutsi neighbours and steal their property.

There were reports, subsequently confirmed, that Hutu husbands were forced to kill their Tutsi wives while entire communities that had previously lived in uneasy peace now saw militias and ordinary citizens become killers.

Also slaughtered in large numbers were the pygmy Batwa people – one third of the population of 30,000 was killed.

How did it end?

AS soon as he heard what was happening Kagame launched ferocious RPF attacks into the north of the country. The UN tried to broker ceasefires, but Kagame refused to accept until the genocide ceased.

Eventually RPF fighters encircled most conurbations and Kigali fell to them on July 4, ending the genocide. Some two million Hutus fled the country fearing the RPF’s revenge.

Was there foreign involvement?

BELGIUM pulled out after its soldiers were killed, but there was evidence that France stayed, ostensibly to try to save people.

To mark the 25th anniversary of the double assassination, President Emmanuel Macron yesterday ordered a full inquiry into France’s role in Rwanda.