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France snubs Rwanda memorial

French troops 'took part in' worst genocide seen since Holocaust

AFP-JIJI, Reuters

France has canceled plans to attend a ceremony Monday marking the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide following accusations by Rwandan President Paul Kagame of French involvement in the massacre.

The African weekly Jeune Afrique quoted Kagame as denouncing the “direct role of Belgium and France . . . in the political preparation for the genocide and participation in its execution.” Kagame also accused French soldiers who took part in a 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 Sunday as Rwanda prepared to mark the 20th anniversary of the atrocities that claimed up to 1 million lives, mainly of minority Tutsis.

French Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said Saturday that Paris was “surprised” by Kagame’s accusation, which goes against reconciliation efforts between the two countries, and announced that Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, who had been due to travel to Rwanda on Monday, will no longer attend the commemoration.

“France regrets that it cannot take part in the 20th anniversary commemorations for the genocide,” he said.

Paris has repeatedly denied the accusations and insisted that French forces had striven to protect civilians.

In 2004, on the 10th anniversary of the genocide, Kagame lashed out at France in his commemoration speech, saying that Paris knew the ethnic Hutu government, army and militia were planning a campaign of genocide. Renaud Muselier, then secretary of state for foreign affairs who was leading that French delegation, cut short his visit after the ceremony.

Kagame’s 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 the 1994 massacre and that French troops had taken part. It accused 13 politicians and 20 officers by name.

“Twenty years later, the only thing you can say against (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.”

Last month, in a landmark ruling, France sentenced former Rwandan Army Capt. Pascal Simbikangwa to 25 years in prison for his role in the genocide. Kagame, however, was scathing about the ruling.

“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 examined,” he said.