Associated Press

March 24, 1997

Rwanda Gunmen Attack School

KIGALI, Rwanda (AP) -- Gunmen stormed a school in western Rwanda, killing five pupils and a watchman after the children refused their order to divide into groups of Tutsis and Hutus, the United Nations said Monday.

The attackers fired automatic weapons and threw grenades at the children, injuring another 19 of them, the United Nations said in a statement. Although reported only Monday, the attack occurred March 18 in the Kibuye prefecture near Lake Kivu.

Rwanda has seen a sharp increase in ethnic violence since more than 1 million Hutu refugees returned from voluntary exile in neighboring countries a few months ago. The Hutus had fled to escape retribution for the 1994 government-sponsored genocide of about a half-million Rwandan Tutsis.

The ages of the victims in the school attack was not known. The U.N. statement said about 20 gunmen entered the Catholic-run school and ordered the children to split themselves into ethnic groups.

The children refused, saying, ``We are all Rwandans,'' the statement said.

The gunmen shot one pupil to try to force the others to comply. The children started to run away, and the attackers opened fire.

A spokesman for Rwandan President Pasteur Bizimungu claimed the pupils' action demonstrated the country was recovering from the worst of its ethnic hatreds.

``It shows that the Rwandan people are prepared to face problems together and not as ethnic entities, even in the face of death,'' Joseph Bideri said. ``It is a sign that nothing will break the national spirit.''

Hutus make up about 85 percent of Rwanda's population of 6 million, compared to the Tutsi's 14 percent. Tutsi rebels ousted the Hutu government in July 1994.

In another reported attack, aid workers say government soldiers killed dozens of men in the northwestern part of the country March 3, the day after several soldiers had been killed in a battle with Hutu militia.

Witnesses put the death toll at anywhere from 50 to several hundred, the aid workers said, speaking on condition of anonymity

Government officials would not comment on the allegation. But the aid workers said several soldiers had been arrested following the killings.

Earlier this week, Vice President and Defense Minister Paul Kagame said in a statement broadcast on government-run Radio Rwanda that soldiers must practice discipline and abide by the law. He did not mention the reported attack.