Rwandans mark 12 year since genocide of African nation

Rwandans on Friday marked 12 years since the former extremist government unleashed a genocide of at least half a million people in this small central African nation. President Paul Kagame, survivors of the 100-day genocide, diplomats, senior officials and residents gathered in the southwestern corner of Rwanda for the beginning of a national week of mourning for members of the Tutsi ethnic minority and political moderates from the Hutu majority who were targeted in the slaughter.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer was expected to join in the commemorations. The diplomat is in Rwanda on a regional trip in which she is expected to visit Burundi , Congo and Republic of Congo . Rwanda 's genocide began hours after a plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana was mysteriously shot down as it approached the capital, Kigali . The leader was returning from power-sharing talks with Tutsi-led rebels.

The genocide ended after rebels, led by Kagame, ousted the extremist Hutu government that had orchestrated the slaughter. On Friday, Rwandans gathered in several parts of the country to offer a decent burial to the exhumed remains of their relatives and neighbors who were killed and dumped into pit latrines and mass graves.

During the weeklong mourning, Rwandans will keep vigils in public and private areas and all entertainment and sports activities will be suspended. Rwandans are still struggling to heal and reconcile after the genocide. Several genocide survivors have been killed in recent years, allegedly by perpetrators of the slaughter or their relatives who were seeking to suppress damaging testimony at community-based courts known as Gacaca.

The traditional courts were set up to speed up genocide trials and foster reconciliation by offering lenient punishment for those who confess their role in the slaughter and demonstrate contrition. The theme for this year's commemoration is "Remembering the genocide, participating in Gacaca, telling the truth and standing up against consequences of the genocide", reports the AP.

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