French President Sarkozy in Rwanda despite French genocide warrants; first visit in 25 years
KIGALI, Rwanda - Nicolas Sarkozy, the first French president to visit Rwanda since the 1994 genocide, said Thursday that those responsible for the killings should be found and punished, including any who might be residing in France.
Sarkozy's trip here - the first by a French head of state in 25 years - came despite French arrest warrants for eight people close to Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who hosted Sarkozy at his residence shortly after he visited the country's main genocide museum.
"What happened here is unacceptable. What happened here requires the international community, including France, to reflect on the errors that prevented it from foreseeing and stopping this horrible crime," Sarkozy told a news conference.
France and Rwanda have sparred for years over an alleged French role in the genocide, in which 500,000 people, mostly ethnic Tutsis but also moderate Hutus, were massacred in frenzied killing led by radical Hutus.
A French advocacy group for Rwandan genocide survivors says France is a "haven" for genocidaires, and it has filed 16 lawsuits against people living in France whom it accuses of a role in the killings.
"We want those responsible for the genocide to be found and punished. There is no ambiguity about it," Sarkozy said. "Are there any in France? The justice system must decide."
Rwanda's government and genocide survivor organizations have often accused France of training and arming the militias and former government troops who led the genocide. In 1998, a French parliamentary panel absolved France of responsibility in the slaughter.
Sarkozy reiterated a message he has made in the past about collective responsibility, including that of France. He said there had been "serious errors of judgment" about the killings and that there had been "a form of blindness when we didn't see the genocidal aspect of the government of the president who was assassinated."
The trip aims to cement diplomatic ties that were restored in November, three years after they broke down because of arrest warrants that accused nine people close to Kagame of a role in the presidential assassination that sparked the genocide.
Eight of the warrants against ranking Rwandans are still active, and Kagame sidestepped a question about them. Sarkozy said that France's justice system is independent and that Kagame understands that.
Sarkozy on Wednesday stopped in Gabon, then made an unscheduled stop in Mali, where he met with a French aid worker released by al-Qaida's North Africa offshoot this week after almost three months in captivity.
Sarkozy has insisted that he wants a healthier relationship with Africa after years of what is known as the "Francafrique" - the French nickname for the secretive network between politicians, businessmen and soldiers in France and Africa.
But Sarkozy's impromptu stop in Mali raised questions about that intention. There has been speculation that France had put pressure on Mali to free four suspected Islamic militants from jail to guarantee the safety of the French hostage.
In Mali, Sarkozy thanked President Amadou Toumani Toure for his efforts to free hostage Pierre Camatte.
The Mali court decision to convict the four suspects on arms charges and sentence them to only nine months behind bars - which they had already served, resulting in their release - angered Mali's neighbours, Algeria and Mauritania, who worried it would encourage terrorists in the region.
Asked whether France had pushed Mali to release the suspected militants, French Cooperation Minister Alain Joyandet told Europe-1 radio, "It's not that simple, there was a trial."
Associated Press writer Angela Doland in Paris contributed to this report.