France on Saturday pulled out of the 20th anniversary commemorations for the Rwandan genocide after Rwandan President Paul Kagame again accused Paris of “participating” in the 1994 mass killings.
French Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Romain Nadal said France was “surprised” by Kagame’s accusation, which went against reconciliation efforts between the two countries, and announced that French Minister of Justice Christiane Taubira would not attend today’s commemorations in Kigali.
“France regrets that it cannot take part in the 20th anniversary commemorations for the genocide,” he said.
Speaking to the weekly Jeune Afrique, Kagame denounced the “direct role of Belgium and France in the political preparation for the genocide.”
He also accused French soldiers who took part in a military humanitarian mission in the south of the former Belgian colony of being both accomplices and “actors” in the bloodbath.
The interview was to be published yesterday as Rwanda prepares to mark the 20th anniversary of the atrocities that claimed at least 800,000 lives, mainly of minority Tutsis.
Paris has repeatedly denied the accusations and insisted that French forces had striven to protect civilians.
Kagame’s Rwanadan Patriotic Front rebels overthrew the Hutu-led administration, and his party still controls the government, but many of those accused of the worst crimes of the war escaped, allegedly under the cover of the French military mission.
In 2008, a report by Rwanda’s Mucyo commission of inquiry concluded that France had trained the militias that carried out killings and French troops had taken part in massacres. It accused 13 politicians and 20 officers by name.
“Twenty years later, the only thing you can say against them [the French] in their eyes is they didn’t do enough to save lives during the genocide,” Kagame told Jeune Afrique.
“That’s a fact, but it hides the main point: the direct role of Belgium and France in the political preparation of the genocide and the participation of the latter in its very execution,” Kagame said.
Kagame’s assertions come as relations between Kigali and Paris — which were completely frozen from 2006 to 2009 — have improved, notably since France last month, in a landmark ruling, sentenced former Rwandan army captain Pascal Simbikangwa to 25 years in prison for his role in the massacre.
However, Kagame was scathing about the Simbikangwa sentence.
“We’ll see what becomes of this sentence on appeal,” he said.
“I don’t think it is a particularly positive development,” he said. “For one criminal condemned 20 years on, how many criminals has the French justice system conjured away? They don’t take us in with their little game. This sentence is made out to be a gesture, almost like a favor that France has accorded Rwanda, while it is France’s role in the genocide that should be being examined.”
Former French minister of foreign affairs Alain Juppe, who was in office in 1994, called it “intolerable” that France would be considered responsible for the genocide.
“I call on the French president and government to defend without ambiguity the honor of France, its army and its diplomats,” Juppe wrote in his blog on Saturday night.
In 2004, on the 10th anniversary of the genocide, Kagame lashed out at France in his commemoration speech at Amahoro Stadium, saying that Paris knew that the ethnic Hutu government, the army and militia were preparing the genocide.