Sun, Nov 26, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Rwanda orders all French diplomats out by tomorrow

AFP , KIGALIF

French diplomats and their families yesterday hurriedly packed their belongings and prepared to leave Rwanda after the government severed relations with France in a major diplomatic row.

Facing an expulsion order that gives them until tomorrow to quit the country, expatriate staff at the French embassy in Kigali, as well employees of all other French state institutions, ordered closed readied for departure.

"I was up all last night packing my bags," one senior French embassy official said on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter. "I will leave Kigali on Monday."

"The ambassador will fly out of Kigali this evening," the official said.

Rwanda broke off diplomatic and cultural relations with France on Friday after a French judge implicated Rwandan President Paul Kagame and top aides in the 1994 assassination of the country's former leader that sparked Rwanda's genocide.

In a dramatic escalation of long-simmering tensions that came to a boil with the judge's declarations this week, Kigali ordered the closure of the French embassy, cultural center and all other state institutions in Rwanda.

French Ambassador Dominique Decherf was given just 24 hours to leave the country, while others affected, including employees at the French international school in Kigali, the Ecole Internationale Francaise Saint-Exupery, and all aid projects supported by the French government, were allowed 72 hours.

Ordinary French citizens in the Rwandan capital declined to speak about the order, citing fears of retribution from the government, which reacted furiously to the judge's allegations about Kagame and close associates.

Diplomats at other Western embassies in Kigali also refused to comment.

Rwanda's foreign minister said on Friday that Rwanda considered France a "hostile" nation after top French anti-terrorism judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere signed international arrest warrants for nine Kagame associates.

Bruguiere is probing the April 6, 1994, shooting down over Kigali of a plane carrying Rwanda's then-president Juvenal Habyarimana, along with Burundi's former leader Cyprien Ntaryamira, both ethnic Hutus, and a French crew.

Habyarimana's death in the ensuing crash set off the 100-day genocide in which Hutu extremists slaughtered some 800,000 people, mainly minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

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