Sarkozy heads to Rwanda on apologetic mission

Published on by KANYARWANDA

France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy. He arrives in Kigali on Thursday. Photo/REUTERS

France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy. He arrives in Kigali on Thursday. Photo/REUTERS 

By PHILIPPE ALFROYPosted Tuesday, February 23 2010 at 19:49


PARIS, Tuesday

Nicolas Sarkozy this week makes one of the most delicate trips of his presidency, heading to Rwanda to open a new chapter in ties with a country where France stands accused of aiding genocide.

Sixteen years after some 800,000 Rwandans were slaughtered by gangs incited by the former French-backed regime, President Sarkozy hopes to restore normal relations with Kigali without apologising nor admitting France’s guilt.

Thursday’s meeting with President Paul Kagame is the climax of a complex three-year diplomatic and judicial ballet, during which angry voices from both sides have accused the other of abetting bloody atrocities.

French officials want to “turn the page”, but Sarkozy’s every word and gesture in Kigali will be watched closely and, even if Kagame is ready for reconciliation, the facts of the genocide are still bitterly disputed.

In Rwanda many survivors have demanded France apologise, while in France members of the previous government and veterans of France’s former military force in Rwanda insist they have nothing to say sorry for.

“He will say some strong things, but not apologise,” a senior aide to Sarkozy told AFP before the French party set off on the first leg of its African visit, which will take it to Gabon on Wednesday.

“This reconciliation with Rwanda ends a major irritant which, because of accusations of complicity in genocide, hurts France’s image on the continent.”

In 1994 the then Rwandan government of President Juvenal Habyarimana was dominated by members of the Hutu ethnic group and engaged in a war against a rebellion led by Rwandan Tutsi exiles based in neighbouring Uganda.

France had interests and troops in the former Belgian colony and was seen as supporting the French-speaking regime against the English-speaking exiles.

On April 6, 1994, Habyarimana was killed when his jet was shot down as it arrived in Kigali. Immediately after the assassination, his supporters launched a massacre of Tutsi civilians and moderate Hutus.

French troops evacuated foreign civilians and members of the Hutu regime, including the president’s widow. They were also accused of continuing to aid Hutu forces even after the genocide began, which Paris firmly denies.

Kagame’s rebellion eventually deposed the government and put a stop to the killings. The new Tutsi-led government was sharply critical of Paris, and accused them of having helped the killers escape.

Several Rwandans accused of participating in the genocide fled to France, and activists have accused Paris of dragging its feet over bringing them to justice. Thirteen have now been indicted. The controversy bubbled along for years and exploded again in 2006, when a French anti-terrorist judge issued an indictment accusing Kagame’s entourage of having carried out Habyarimana’s assassination.

Rwanda responded by releasing a report accusing around 30 senior French political and military figures from the period 1990 to 1994 of complicity in the genocide. Kigali cut diplomatic ties with Paris.


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