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Text by Marc DAOU

Latest update : 2012-01-11

The change in course of a French investigation into the killing of former Rwandan leader Juvenal Habyarimana in 1994 could clear Rwanda's current leaders of any responsibility and help thaw frosty relations between Paris and Kigali.

A French judicial probe into the shooting down of Rwandan leader Juvenal Habyarimana's jet in April 1994 has exonerated seven allies of the African country’s current President Paul Kagame, offering further scope for a thaw in relations between France and Rwanda.

The report, which establishes that Habyarimana’s plane was hit by a missile fired from a base controlled by his own forces, is expected to lead French magistrates to drop charges against Kagame’s allies.

The assassination of Habyarimana, an ethnic Hutu, served as a spark for the 1994 Rwandan genocide, in which Hutu militias killed some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in just three months.

President Kagame, whose Tutsi forces eventually defeated the Hutu militias and put an end to the genocide, decided to break off diplomatic ties with France in 2006 after French judge Jean-Louis Bruguière issued arrest warrants against members of Kagame’s entourage for the killing of Habyarimana.

The tension between the two countries eased in February 2010 after a visit to Kigali by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, during which the French leader admitted that France had made “a grave error of judgement” in 1994 by failing to recognise that its then Hutu allies were bent on genocide.

Andre Guichaoua, a professor of sociology at the Paris Sorbonne University and an expert witness at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, tells FRANCE 24 what’s at stake.

FRANCE 24: French judges investigating the assassination of Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana have changed their stance. How do you explain this?

Andre Guichaoua: This report has brought much new evidence to the inquiry that must be taken seriously. Judges Marc Trevidic and Nathalie Poux have taken a different approach by using scientific methods which have weakened the conclusions of Judge Bruguiere, whose ruling in 2006 resulted in nine arrest warrants being issued against allies of Kagame. We must remain cautious, however, because this report is not the court’s final decision. Nor does it say who were the real authors of the attack on Habyarimana's plane. It is too early to draw conclusions.

F24: Kigali has said that the conclusions of this report have “brought justice” to Rwanda. What effect will it have on relations with Paris?

AG: Many people will be stressing the particularly good timing of the report, which comes as the two countries attempt to normalise relations with each other. But this report was not written for the sake of a diplomatic rapprochement. If that was true this would not be a legal report but a political one, and that would be a profound insult to French legal due process and would suggest that French judges are under orders from politicians. 

F24: After many years of tension, France is building bridges with Rwanda. What is at stake for the two countries?

AG: In the last few years Rwanda has become an influential economic player in the region, especially in terms of investment and trade. When relations with France were at their lowest ebb, Rwandan authorities made sure that their regional neighbours, including English-speaking countries like Kenya and South Africa, be cautious in their approach to France. Indeed because of the Rwandan issue, Paris has been having a hard time in the region. But the French cannot afford to stand on the margins of this growing and important part of Africa. France is particularly keen to see stability come to the Democratic Republic of Congo, something it cannot do without the help and support of Rwanda, which can switch from playing a stabilising or destabilising role as it sees fit.

Date created : 2012-01-11


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