The little known story of a surrounded battalion that started the counterattack to end the Rwandan Genocide against the Tutsi in 1994.
Before the Rwandan Genocide against the Tutsi started on April 6th, 1994, the 600 strong 3rd Battalion of the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) was guarding opposition political leaders in the capital city, Kigali, as part of a peace process to install a new coalition government after a civil war.
They were an isolated force far from the RPA headquarters near the Ugandan border, 83 kilometers to the north, and they were surrounded by as many as 10,000 soldiers of the army known as the FAR of the Hutu government who were well supplied by the French.
The RPA attracted Tutsi exiles and followers from Congo, Burundi, Tanzania, and Rwanda (including opposition Hutus) as their mission to return exiled Tutsis to Rwanda and reverse the policies of an increasingly violent Hutu Power government that endangered the lives of the more than 1.3 million Tutsis left in Rwanda.
For years, Hutu Power leaders trained local militias and their Army to carry out their own solution to the RPF’s mission—the full-scale massacre of every Tutsi in Rwanda.
On the night of April 6th, after extremists downed the plane carrying the Hutu President of Rwanda who was participating in the peace talks, the Army and the militias began targeted assassinations of moderate Hutu leaders, and prominent Tutsis, and then indiscriminate massacres of Tutsi civilians across the country at an alarmingly fast and brutal pace. And then, the Army launched an all out attack on the surrounded RPA Battalion at the Parliament.
“The 600” is the story of this battalion, which held out for several days, and the relief forces of the RPA who raced to save them from the North.
It’s the story of the daring rescues made by the RPA while under enemy fire of thousands of civilians around Kigali trapped in churches, the stadium, and their homes, who were facing certain death.
In the course of doing so, this force of men and women were able to begin the counter attack that drove the Army and the Hutu Power government from Rwanda, and bring the Genocide to a close.
“The 600” tells the story of a young, well disciplined, politically-educated army, willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to save Rwanda from one of the worst events in human history.
It focuses on the most desperate moments, when it was unclear if the Hutu Power Genocidal forces would not only succeed in massacring every Tutsi man woman and child in Rwanda, but also defeat the RPA and extinguish all hope for so many.
A sergeant in the 600,Theogene is part of the first counter-attacks against the superior forces of the government army. Once high ground is secured, he gets permission to try and save his relatives nearby. Disguised in a captured government army uniform, Theogene and a couple of colleagues round up dozens of Tutsi from his relatives’ neighborhood, and brazenly take them through government roadblocks where Tutsi are being slaughtered. But his ruse is discovered and he and the civilians have to dodge gunfire all night til he can bring them to safety.
The College of St. Andre
After horrific mass murders leave a couple of hundred of women and children resigned to a certain and imminent death, they get a reprieve when a cow distracts the militias from their killing task and gets butchered and eaten instead. The reprieve is just enough for a few RPA soldiers to make it to their hiding places and convince them to flee to safety in the middle of the night.
In one of the most dramatic and largest nighttime rescues of the Genocide, a handful of RPA soldiers sneak behind enemy lines in the center of Kigali and whisked nearly 2000 terrified civilians, who were about to be executed, to safety under enemy fire.
The soldiers of the RPA, while under fire from larger forces, still had to deal with the barbarity of the Genocide, discovering mass killings, raped women, and sometimes their own relatives who had been killed by the perpetrators of the Genocide against the Tutsi. Nevertheless, many just fought on.
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