UNAMIR II - UN Assistance Mission Rwanda (Peacekeeping, 20 August 1994 to 25 August 1995)

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About This Campaign

Operation TAMAR - ADF participation in the UN Assistance Mission to Rwanda 1994-95

Main image - Australian troops of the second contingent among the detritus of the Kibeho refugee camp April 1995


This submission is posted as a tribute to the Commanding Officer of the Second contingent, Lieutenant Colonel (later Brigadier (retired)) Damian "Dolly" Moliphant Roche who passed away suddenly in January 2014 aged just 58.

UNAMIR II was put in place to assist in the stabilisation of Rwanda after the Genocide and civil war of April - July 1994.

Rwanda had been beset by long-standing tensions between two major ethnic groups, the Hutu and the Tutsi.  The roots of the problem are a function of tribal history and  the colonial history of this former Belgian colony, and prior to WW1, a German colony.  The Germans had established Colonial rule in the first instance, as part of the colonial expansionism that the country had embarked upon to try and match that of Britain.   Control was ceded to Belgium following the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. 

Pre-independence, the Tutsis had been in the minority, but were effectively a ruling class.  The Tutsis are of Nilotic (ie 'of the Nile') extraction and are tall and slim with fine features.  Historically they were cattle herders, with origins similar to the Kenyan Masai and Samburu.  They were a power-and-bureaucratic elite. 

The Hutus are of Bantu extraction.  Shorter and stockier in appearance and with broader facial feature, they were historically farmers.

The reality however was much more blurred.  There had been extensive intermarrying and people of mixed race held numerous positions in all parts of government, in education, the bureaucracy, medicine and the military.

The Belgian colonisers reinforced the social 'status quo'.  However, post-independence, the Hutus achieved political majority.  In 1959 attacks on Tutsis took place and large numbers were killed.  Tutsis fled in large numbers over the northern border to Uganda.  

President Juvénal Habyarimana had seized power in a 1973 coup.  Over time a de-facto rebel army developed there, which became known as the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).  English speaking and trained by the Ugandans along British lines, a further schism developed with the French-speaking Rwandan administration. 

At various times the RPF had assisted the Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni during the protracted civil war in Uganda between the late 1970s and late 1980s following the ousting of Idi Amin.  The RPF was trained and organised along lines similar to the British-trained Ugandans, and they had gained experience fighting alongside Museveni's troops.

Tensions escalated through the 1980s. The RPF began a border war with the Rwandan Government in 1990.

In 1993 the UN became involved and assigned a Peacekeeping force to Rwanda in place of the team of Observers that had been in place prior.  A joint government was formed and a series of negotiations.  

On 6 April 1994, returning from one of these conferences at Arusha (Tanzania) President Habyarimana and President Ntaryamira of Burundi were killed when their aircraft was shot down on approach to Kigali by a shoulder launched Surface to Air Missile (SAM).

An extremist group, the Interahamwe, which was not in any way interested in any kind of negotiated peace, had precipitated an insurrection and then commenced an orgy of killing the likes of which have not been seen in recent human history.  More than 800,000 people were brutally murdered along ethnic lines, in a systematic orchestrated manner. It was a classic neo-Marxist purge in the way it was carried out, although it transcended anything that had preceded it in ferocity.  

Every Rwandan citizen had an ID card on which they were identified by ethnicity and it was these cards that became the vector of the Interahamwe's onslaught.  Educated people, Tutsis, people of mixed blood, the entire medical staff at the Kigali hospital were all killed in the most brutal manner.   Bodies were strewn everywhere and began washing down rivers and some were washed up in Uganda.

A group of Belgian soldiers, assigned as a Presidential Guard, were slaughtered after surrendering to the Interahamwe at the direction of the UN Force HQ. This precipitated a crisis in the UN.  The remaining Belgians withdrew and the fate of UNAMIR was debated.

The RPF, now led by General Paul Kagame (who had been a Major attending US Army Staff College when he withdrew to return home in order to take command of the RPF) stepped up its drive on Kigali after they realised the world was standing by while the genocide continued unabated. The French unilaterally inserted an intervention force, in June 1994, called Operation Turquoise. Critics later argued that all this did was allow the perpetrators of the genocide to escape.

This re-newed outbreak of violence saw the evacuation of foreign nationals and the bulk of UNAMIR forces were also withdrawn.

In the interim, on 17 May 1994, the United Nations Security Council authorised a Chapter VI peacekeeping mandate for a 5500 strong force, known as UNAMIR II, for deployment to Rwanda. Separately,  the French Government sought and was granted approval under UN Chapter VII articles to organise a safe haven (known as a Humanitarian Protection Zone) in the south west of Rwanda.

In mid-June the French enacted Operation TURQUOISE deploying 2500 soldiers, mainly infantry, to set up and enforce the protection zone during 22 June - 21 August 1994. The United States also deployed forces, separate to UNAMIR II, to create an airhead in Uganda and to also improve the Kigali airport in preparation for the arrival of UNAMIR II forces.

On 4 July 1994 the RPF captured Kigali and by 18 July the RPF had seized control of the greater part of Rwanda. At this point an estimated 1 million Rwandan Tutsis and moderate Hutus had been killed in the fighting and almost twice that number displaced.  


On 25 July 1994 Prime Minister Paul Keating announced that Australia would provide $6.5 Million in direct financial aid to the UN.  Additionally he advised the deployment of an Australian Defence Force (ADF) contingent of 302 personnel to Rwanda consisting of 100 medical personnel and another 200 infantry/logistics support personnel. The ADF had been advised of the decision the day before Prime Minister Keating’s announcement.

At this point Australia agreed to send a Medical Support Force, and quickly formed a contingent based around a Field Hospital style organisation which assembled in Townsville and deployed in early August 1994.  

The contingent comprised a small UN HQ detachment including the Commander (Colonel Wayne Ramsay), and the Medical Support Force comprising a contingent Headquarters commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Pat McIntosh, a Medical Company to establish and run the hospital, a security force drawn from Townsville-based 2/4th Battalion the Royal Australian Regiment (the only formed element of the contingent) and an Operations Support Company comprising logistics support capability.

A total of two such contingents were to deploy; the first from August 1994 to February 1995, and the second from February to August 1995.  They were based in the old Rwandan Military College in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, about 400m from the hospital which they were tasked to run.  The capability of the Medical Support Force was such that the hospital quickly came up to speed with high level surgical capability.

Its principal role was to provide Level 2 health care for the deployed UN Forces.  The background health of deployed UN personnel varied enormously and a range of ailments not normally encountered in Australia quickly manifest themselves; tuberculosis, cerebral malaria ('blackwater fever'), parasitic maladies and a high background rate of HIV were all on the agenda.  A number of foreign civilian casualties passed through the care of the hospitals most notably among some European aid workers wounded in neighbouring Burundi.  In addition, support was provided to the local population although this was necessarily resource-constrained.  In addition, a training program was instituted to build capability among the local population to try to replace some of the skills lost when most of the hospital staff were killed by the Interahamwe during the genocide.

It was later discovered that the remains of most of the hospital's original staff had been buried in the hospital grounds.   Their remains were exhumed, identified where possible and re-interred during the course of the second contingent's deployment, while the hospital's operations continued.

A mass casualty event occurred  around 21 April 1995, when in the midst of a thunderstorm, tens of thousands of mainly Hutu internees attempted to break out of a refugee camp where they had been detained by Government forces, at Kibeho in southern Rwanda.   The conditions in this camp in particular were appalling.  Attempts were being made by the UN and Rwandan government to repatriate people back to their communities under what was known as "Operation Retour".  Interahamwe militia were hiding among the refugees and had prevented the occupants from collaborating to facilitate processing.  

In response, the Rwandan authorities cut off food water and sanitation and the lives of 200,000 or so people descended quickly into abject misery.  A thunderstorm allowed the Interahamwe in the camp to trigger the breakout so they could use the disturbance to try to get away and avoid the screening that was taking place under "Operation Retour". The attempted breakout triggered a violent response by the Rwandan Army forces, and the small detachment of Australian and Zambian Peacekeepers stationed there were unable to intervene because of the nature of the UN Mandate, and were caught in the middle. The troops on the ground estimated as many as 4,000 civilians were killed and wounded, with far fewer casualties (340) being acknowledged by either the Government or the UN.

That event epitomised the worst aspects of Peacekeeping operations for many of the Australian troops.  Intervention was what human sensibilities demanded yet to do so would have been contrary to the mandate under which the UN was operating.  Worse, it would have been futile and the consequences could have been calamitous for them and the remainder of the UN Force.  Many of the wounded were evacuated through the Australian-run hospital in Kigali, and the troops at Kigali spent several days burying the dead in mass graves.  It was an experience which has haunted many of them ever since.

The ADF commitment to Rwanda was a first in many respects.  All three services, Reserve and Regular, with a very large proportion of women, comprised each of the two contingents. 

The ADF's surgical capability was and is provided largely from the Reserve, comprising a pool of practising surgeons.  Rotated through on six week assignments, the capability this generated made the Kigali Military Hospital one of the most capable in Africa at that time.

Twenty five years on and half of Rwanda's population was born after the events just described, so their memory of it is only through what they have been told.  The Australian involvement is likely now largely forgotten.

However, it is not forgotten among the men and women who comprised the two contingents.  The most persistent legacy of the ADF's deployment to Rwanda is the toll it took of the men and women who served there.  ADF personnel had not been present during the initial genocide in 1994.  But the Kibeho massacre fostered a deep sense of powerlessness to make a difference when it counted most.  The psychological dissonance that this caused, particularly among the people on the ground at Kibeho, persists to this day as is evident from the various published accounts by the men and women involved.


Steve Larkins June 2014

Steve served as a Major on the Headquarters of ASC II (Second contingent).






Showing 3 people of interest from campaign

DYER, David

Service number 455516
Born 12 Dec 1970

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BLACK, Robert Barham

Service number O43070
Group Captain
UNAMIR II Australian Service Contingent 1 & 2
Australian Army (post WW2)
Born 28 Nov 1938

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LARKINS, Stephen Francis

Service number 8264697
Born 27 Mar 1954