As Rwanda marked 20 years since the genocide that killed 800,000 people in just over three months, President Paul Kagame reiterated his conviction that France was partly to blame for the slaughter, saying bluntly in French that "facts are facts".
"The passage of time should not obscure the facts, lessen the responsibility, or turn victims into villains," Kagame said in his speech at a commemoration ceremony in Kigali.
"People cannot be bribed or forced into changing their history, and no country is powerful enough – even when they think they are – to change the facts," Kagame said, adding in French: "Les faits sont tetus (facts are facts)."
The statement drew loud applause inside the national stadium.
The run-up to the anniversary has been marked by a renewed diplomatic row over Rwandan allegations of French complicity in the genocide.
Kagame told the French magazine "Jeune Afrique" (Young Africa) last week that both Belgium and France had played a "direct role" in the killings and said that French soldiers – who helped train the Hutu nationalist-controlled Rwandan army prior to 1994 – had been both accomplices and “actors” in the bloody tragedy.
"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 the magazine.
"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," he said.
Paris has repeatedly denied accusations of complicity and insisted that French forces tried to protect civilians during the 100 days of slaughter.
Tit for tat
France’s foreign ministry reacted angrily by saying that Kagame’s accusations went against reconciliation efforts between the two countries and announced that Justice Minister Christiane Taubira would not travel to Rwanda as planned to mark the 20th anniversary.
In retaliation, the French ambassador was barred Monday from attending the commemoration ceremony in Kigali.
A 2008 report by Rwanda's MUCYO commission of inquiry concluded that France had trained the militias that led the killings and that French troops had taken part in some of the massacres. It accused 13 politicians and 20 officers by name.
Kagame's assertions come as relations between Kigali and Paris – which were suspended from 2006 to 2009 – could have seen an improvement, notably since a landmark ruling last month in which a French court sentenced former Rwandan army captain Pascal Simbikangwa to 25 years in prison for his role in the massacres.
Kagame, however, was unimpressed by Simbikangwa's guilty verdict and took the opportunity to once again blame France for its actions.
"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 favour that France has accorded Rwanda, while it is France's role in the genocide that should be being examined."
Kagame told the Kigali crowd on Monday that Rwanda's progress since the killings offered a reason for humanity to hope.
"Today we have a reason to celebrate the normal moments of life, that are easy for others to take for granted," he said. "If the genocide reveals humanity's shocking capacity for human cruelty, Rwanda's choices show its capacity for renewal."
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
Date created : 2014-04-07