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Paul Rusesabagina, No 'Ordinary Man'

The true story of Paul Rusesabagina, pictured here at the NPR West studios in Culver City, Calif., inspired the critically lauded film <em>Hotel Rwanda</em>.
The true story of Paul Rusesabagina, pictured here at the NPR West studios in Culver City, Calif., inspired the critically lauded film <em>Hotel Rwanda</em>.

Twelve years ago Thursday, a single attack on a plane triggered a 100-day orgy of slaughter in the central African nation of Rwanda that left at least 800,000 people dead.

Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana, a member of the Hutu clan, and Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira were killed when their plane was shot down as it was about to land in the capital of Kigali. The response was swift: The presidential guard murdered Habyarimana's political opponents and put into motion a preplanned campaign to slaughter rival Tutsi clan members.

The international community did little to stop the bloodshed, and it ended only when a Tutsi rebel group defeated the Hutu-backed government.

Amid the stories of unthinkable, pitiless bloodshed, there were faint voices of hope.

Paul Rusesabagina, dubbed by some the "Oskar Schindler of Africa," resisted the madness that surrounded him and quietly sheltered more than 1,200 Tutsis and moderate Hutus within the walls of the luxury hotel he managed. Outside those hotel walls, mobs hunted down their victims and hacked them to death with machetes.

Rusesabagina's story became the basis of the Oscar-nominated film Hotel Rwanda. His memoir goes further, charting his extraordinary career and never-before-reported details of Rwanda's 100 days of horror — and the betrayal he still feels toward the U.N. peacekeepers who refused to help him. His book also takes a wider look at colonialism, tribal identity and conflict resolution.

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