KIGALI – A suspected mass grave holding 5,000 victims of the 1994 Rwandan genocide against the Tutsi ethnic group has been discovered in Gatsibo district in eastern Rwanda, officials said Wednesday.

Officials and survivors said the victims are believed to have been killed on orders of the former Mayor of Murambi Commune, Jean Baptiste Gatete, after they were evicted from the Kiziguro Catholic Church, where they took refuge and their bodies were dumped in the grave that is more than 30 meters deep (98 feet).

Gatete was mayor from 1987 to 1993 and later convicted of genocide and sentenced to 40 years in prison by a UN criminal tribunal.

Exhumations began Tuesday and are expected to last three weeks, local official Richard Gasana told reporters.

The discovery of mass graves nearly three decades after the genocide is not unusual.

Remains of more than 118,000 genocide victims were discovered in fiscal year 2018-2019.

The remains are normally given a befitting burial but this year such ceremonies were halted because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Gatsibo district, where the former Murambi Commune is located, is an area where massacres were reportedly committed during the genocide.

A memorial in the Kiziguro area has the remains of more than 14,000 victims killed in a four-day period, according to survivors.

The 1994 Rwandan genocide against the Tutsi ethnic group claimed over 1 million lives, mainly ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus.