Wed, Nov 22, 2006 - Page 6 News List

French judge seeks trial for Rwandan president


France's top antiterrorism judge recommended on Monday that Rwandan President Paul Kagame be tried for war crimes for his alleged involvement in the downing of his predecessor's plane, an act which sparked the 1994 genocide.

The judge, Jean-Louis Bruguiere, said Kagame should face prosecution before the international war crimes court in Tanzania because he is suspected of involvement in the death of then Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana.

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Tanzania is currently hearing the case of several former high-ranking Rwandan army officers accused of genocide during the 100 days of carnage that followed.

The court last month rejected a request to take into account an earlier account from Bruguiere into the killing of Habyarimana which reportedly named Kagame as the main decision-maker behind the April 6, 1994 attack in which Habyarimana, a Hutu, was killed.

Habyarimana's aircraft was shot down and his death sparked off the genocide in which some 800,000 people, mostly Tutsis and moderate Hutus, were butchered.

Burundian president Cyprien Ntaryamira and a four-man French crew were also killed in the crash.

Kagame, who headed the Tutsi rebel force that took power in Kigali in July 1994, ending the genocide, has always denied any involvement in the attack on the aircraft carrying Habyarimana.

Those already being tried by the Tanzania-based ICTR have attempted to deflect blame for the genocide onto Habyarimana's killers.

But the court has disagreed, ruling that the charges facing the accused are not based on any alleged responsibility or involvement in Habyarimana's death.

French courts also called on Monday for international arrest warrants to be served against nine of Kagame's aides in relation to the plane attack, including James Kabarebe, a senior officer in the Rwandan army.

Before the allegations of Kagame's involvement, which surfaced in unofficial UN documents, it was widely assumed that Habyarimana was killed by Hutu extremists in his own entourage, who were opposed to power-sharing arrangements with Kagame's mainly Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).

A confidential memorandum written by an investigator for the UN in 1997 and implicating Kagame is under seal at the ICTR, which has refused to give a copy to Bruguiere.

The ICTR chief prosecutor, Hassan Bubacar Jallow of Gambia, has said that the attack against Habyarimana is not part of his mandate.

Relations between the French and Rwandan governments have been dominated by mutual distrust in recent years following suspicions that France gave critical backing to Habyarimana.

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