Kagame visit revives French anger

2011-09-09 15:26
Paris - Rwandan President Paul Kagame's visit to France is supposed to mark a normalisation of ties between the nations, but it has also revived the anger of the French accused of sponsoring genocide.

In 1994 some 800 000 Rwandans, mostly members of Kagame's Tutsi ethnic group, were slaughtered by Hutu militia. Some in Rwanda accused French forces of supporting the genocidal regime and helping its leaders escape justice.

This was furiously denied by French officials, who insisted their forces had striven to protect civilians, but 17 years later the wounds are still too raw for some to forget what they see as a vicious slur on their honour.

Kagame's FPR rebels overthrew the Hutu-led government 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 a French military mission.

In 2008, a report by Rwanda's Mucyo commission of inquiry concluded 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.

Since then, President Nicolas Sarkozy's government has worked to repair or at least normalise ties. The French leader has visited Kagame in Kigali, and on Sunday the Rwandan will in turn be in Paris.

Tissue of lies

"It's an insult," declared retired general Jean-Claude Lafourcade, former commander of Operation Turquoise, the French military mission in Rwanda, which was accused of allowing murderers to escape along with civilian refugees.

"I can't accept that France is welcoming onto its soil a man who has insulted the honour of the French army," he said.

French lawmaker Paul Quiles headed France's own commission of inquiry into the Rwandan tragedy. His report pointed to France's "global error of strategy" but rejected allegations of French involvement in massacres.

"If Kagame comes to France without withdrawing the Mucyo report, which brands French soldiers rapists and murderers, it will be ignominious. I can't understand how the president, the commander in chief, can accept it," he said.

France's Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, who served in the same post in 1994, was named in the Mucyo report. Returning to office last year he said he would not shake Kagame's hand unless the "tissue of lies" was withdrawn.

Juppe will not have to make this choice next week, however, as he has chosen the dates of Kagame's visit to carry out a lengthy series of visits far away from Paris in the Pacific.

But, while some in Paris are furious at the rapprochement, many diplomats and historians warn that their passion for self-justification has led France down the wrong path.

Double genocide

France has not, unlike Belgium or the United States, apologised for failing to halt the killings - and some experts think France has blinded itself to its own failings in its rush to defend itself from charges of complicity.

"For a certain number of French officers the operation in Rwanda was felt to be the last chapter of the war in Algeria, the last line of defence" of a disappearing French-speaking African empire, one specialist told AFP.

Kagame's Tutsi rebels were based in English-speaking Uganda and the new Rwandan leader was seen as being closer to London and Washington than to Paris, while the ousted Hutu regime was French-speaking.

In their defence of their country's record, some in France now push the theory of a "double genocide", accusing Kagame's troops of carrying out mass killings in 1996 in refugee camps in eastern Congo.

While the UN has condemned these massacres, some observers warn that there is a danger of "revisionism" in the attitudes of some of the French, seeking to downplay or deny the guilt of the Hutu regime.

Just this week, France's current ambassador in Kigali Laurent Contini warned against a rise in "anti-Rwandan propaganda" in Paris.

And Andre Guichaoua, a sociologist and expert attached to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, said: "This visit should go ahead. Diplomacy is not about morality."

Read more on:    paul kagame  |  france  |  rwanda  |  east africa  |  1994 rwandan genocide

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