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Architect held at gunpoint on Rwandan reconstruction

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A British architect was dragged from his car and threatened at gunpoint by Rwandan militia-men while rebuilding a government facility following the 1994 civil war, it emerged this week as the building was completed.

Hugh Geddes, partner of London-based Levitt Bernstein, narrowly escaped being shot during work on the £400,000 restoration of Rwanda's central financial training institution on behalf of the British Department for International Development (DFID).

'An irregular militia which was squatting in the ruins of the building when we arrived took offence at being photographed, ' Geddes said.'They dragged me out of the car, tore the film out of the camera and threatened to shoot me. I somehow managed to talk my way out of it.'

Nevertheless Geddes described the refurbishment of the 6,000m 2Swiss-built Institut Superieur des Finances Republiques as 'an absolute triumph'. 'It looks good, it's useful, it's worthwhile, and it's cheap, ' he said, though he added that undertaking the work had been a difficult task.

The building had suffered heavy shelling and was virtually destroyed during the war, and Rwanda's unstable state made the project a near impossibility from the start.The DFID agreed to fund the project in 1996, as part of an aid programme, but hidden landmines and soldiers squatting on the premises hampered progress.

In addition, much of Rwanda's skilled trade and professional work-base was destroyed during the civil war, making reliable service providers hard to find, Geddes said. To bypass the absence of local design skills, Levitt Bernstein was instructed to carry out the work, which began as soon as the landmines were cleared.

Geddes said: 'The locals cleared the mines by setting light to the bush and driving cattle across the ground to ensure that none had been missed.'

Geddes saw the project through to its eventual completion, and said that he was 'delighted' by the outcome.

The building, which was finished under budget, is currently being used for a Britishfunded financial training scheme.

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