Broken Dallaire, haunted by Rwanda, lies drunk in park

'His eyes were glazed over, like he was somewhere else'

Brad Evenson, with files from Ron Corbett, Ottawa Citizen

National Post

HULL, Que. - Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire, the Canadian commander of the ill-fated United Nations mission to Rwanda in 1994, is recovering at home after being found unconscious on a riverside park bench this week.

"My heart goes out to him. I know he's battling a lot of demons right now," said Gen. Lewis MacKenzie, who led the UN mission to Bosnia in 1993.

Witnesses say Lt.-Gen. Dallaire was curled in a fetal position and obviously drunk. "When I finally discovered it was him, I was really sad," said Stephane Beaudoin, a night news cameraman who happened on the scene. "I didn't shoot it because I was depressed to imagine a man like that could be there and didn't have help. He was so important for Canada when he was in good shape."

Lt.-Gen. Dallaire confirmed the incident yesterday through a Department of National Defence spokesman.

Lt.-Gen. Dallaire said he regrets what happened. He also offered an explanation.

"I have spoken to Mr. Dallaire today and he obviously has regrets about this incident," said Lt.-Colonel Brett Boudreau. "However, as you know, he has been very open, very frank, about his battle with post-traumatic stress disorder and he has authorized me to say he views this as simply one more step in his healing process."

Lt.-Gen. Dallaire, 53, was taken by ambulance to hospital, treated and released.

Ray Gaudreau, a Hull resident who was walking his dog in Jacques Cartier Park, where Lt.-Gen. Dallaire was found at about midnight on Monday, said the war veteran sat on the bench for a long time before passing out.

"I recognized him from TV," said Mr. Gaudreau. "He was just wearing a T-shirt. He was staring at the [Ottawa] river and you could see his eyes were glazed over, like he was somewhere else." People close to Lt.-Gen. Dallaire say he has been "somewhere else" for years; reliving the horror in Rwanda that led to the massacre of 800,000 Tutsis and Hutus, as well as 10 Belgian paratroops under his command.

On April 12, Lt.-Gen. Dallaire took early retirement, due to stress and nightmares of the African genocide. It left him with "all those grey cells screwed up," he explained.

In recent years, Lt.-Gen. Dallaire says he has twice tried to kill himself. He told an interviewer he once burst into tears in a supermarket because the smell of fresh fruit reminded him of Rwanda.

Recently, Lt.-Gen. Dallaire said he had been making good progress with his psychotherapy, which allows him to anticipate the horrible flashbacks he suffers, "which can come from a smell, a statement, just a cloudy day or just the evening," he said.

"Because what we live with will never disappear."

Lt.-Gen. Dallaire's breakdown comes as his military reputation is being restored. Last December, an inquiry panel confirmed the retired general sent a telex warning the UN Security Council of a potential massacre.

The inquiry blamed the United Nations, and secretary-general Kofi Annan in particular, for failing to respond to Lt.-Gen. Dallaire's request to step in to prevent the genocide.

"[The UN] should also be flexible enough to allow the Force Commander the leeway to adapt to changing circumstances on the ground," the inquiry advised.

A court has also exonerated Lt.-Gen. Dallaire in the deaths of the 10 Belgians.

Even so, he remains frustrated by his mission's failure.

In a recent CBC TV interview, Lt.-Gen. Dallaire said he cannot escape the memories of the ethnic slaughter "hearing them die at the end of the phone because I decided not to be able to send troops to reinforce there.

"There are many days in the past, and less so now, where I wish I had died there."

Lt.-Gen. Dallaire is also haunted by the memory of the Belgian troops who were hacked to death with machetes at the beginning of the genocide.

"What comes back to me is the pile of bodies of those solders in the corner near the morgue, with a 25-watt bulb there about 10 metres away," he told a reporter two years ago. "And it was just [like] looking at a sack of potatoes piled up. That comes back vividly."

Making things worse for Lt.-Gen. Dallaire's mental health, the families of the slain Belgians blamed him for not coming to the soldiers' assistance, something he maintains would have been foolhardy and too dangerous to other troops.

"The fact that you are being blamed by an entire country for what you had no control over is bound to have a stressful negative effect on your psyche," said Lt.-Col. Rick McLellan, the Canadian Forces' chief social worker.

"You can safely assume that General Dallaire was negatively affected by the Belgian response."

Friends feel deeply sorry for a man many describe as a tragic hero. An old military friend, Normand Bernier, spoke recently about Lt.-Gen. Dallaire's situation.

"The difficult part is to look at him and to look at his health now, and to look and to realize that he's not as well as he could be," said Mr. Bernier, now an officer with the Montreal police.

Lt.-Gen. Dallaire has hinted recently that he may write a book to describe his experiences.