Mbaye Diagne

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Mbaye Diagne (18 March 1958 – 31 May 1994) was a Senegalese military officer who served in Rwanda as a United Nations military observer from 1993 to 1994. During the Rwandan genocide he undertook many missions on his own initiative to save the lives of civilians.[1]

Diagne was born in Senegal. After graduating from the University of Dakar he enrolled in the Senegalese Army's École Nationale des Officiers d'Active. He completed his schooling the following year and eventually attained the rank of captain. He was given command of the 3rd Company of the 6th Infantry Battalion and fought in the Casamance conflict from 1989 to 1993.[2]

That year Diagne was sent to Rwanda as part of an Organisation of African Unity military observer team tasked with monitoring the Rwandan Civil War, a conflict fought between the Hutu-dominated government and the Tutsi-led Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF). Later he was assigned to the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR), a UN peacekeeping force meant to oversee the implementation of the Arusha Accords—a peace agreement designed to end the war. In April 1994 the President of Rwanda was killed. Hutu extremists initiated the Rwandan genocide, targeting members of the Tutsi ethnic minority. They murdered moderate Hutu Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana, and Diagne rescued her children and secured them safe passage out of the country. He then undertook numerous missions on his own around Kigali in violation of the UN's rules of engagement, hiding Tutsis in his car and evacuating them to UN installations. He also protected some Hutus and worked to safeguard the Senegalese expatriate community. Various estimates exist for the number of lives Diagne saved, ranging as high as over 1,000.[3]

On 31 May 1994 Diagne was killed when a mortar shell launched by RPF forces exploded near his car while he was stopped at a government checkpoint. His death led the UN to suspend relief operations in Kigali. His body was repatriated to Senegal and buried with full military honours. In 2005 Diagne was posthumously awarded the rank of Knight in Senegal's National Order of the Lion. The UN Security Council created the Captain Mbaye Diagne Medal for Exceptional Courage in 2014 in his honour.[4]

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