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Paris and Kigali pledge to improve ties after diplomatic freeze

Rwanda and France have pledged to improve ties after a lengthy freeze in diplomatic relations, however Rwanda's main genocide survivors group has once again called for Paris to apologise over the 1994 massacres.

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AFP - Rwanda and France pledged Thursday to improve ties after a lengthy freeze in diplomatic relations triggered by a French judge issuing arrest warrants for top aides to President Paul Kagame.

"We are convinced that our two countries must move forward together," said Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo after talks with her French counterpart Bernard Kouchner in Kigali.

"We have a common history. We have had difficulties. We are ready to discuss them and move on. We are beginning a new phase in our shared history."

The two countries announced a resumption of ties in November, three years after Kigali -- angered by charges that nine top officials in Kagame's regime were behind the death of a former president -- broke off relations.

Kouchner's one-day visit, the first by a French government official since the November decision, is designed to give ties a much-needed boost.

Rwanda and France have since named envoys to each others' countries. Kigali appointed Jacques Kabare, while Paris is awaiting Kigali's approval for its nominee.

In 2006, French judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere issued warrants for nine officials close to Kagame suspected of being implicated in the shooting down of the plane of former Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana.

The April 6, 1994 downing of the plane carrying Habyarimana and former Burundi president Cyprien Ntaryamira is believed to have triggered the genocide in which some 800,000 people, mainly minority Tutsis, were killed.

"We are going to resume normal relations. We need to restore cultural and development programmes," said Kouchner, who arrived in Kigali late Wednesday.

"With regard to the dark moments, we need to ask historians, sociologists, witnesses and survivors to work together so that our countries know what happened."

However, Rwanda's main genocide survivors group, Ibuka, renewed its call for Paris to apologise over the massarcre.

"Apologies are necessary. Other countries did it, such as Belgium, the United Sates," said Theodore Simburudali, the head of the association.

"Apologies would be welcome, but we also have difficulties... survivors are living in extreme poverty. France can facilitate aid for the survivors. We do not necessarily need money, but psychologists, psychiatrists," he added.

Kouchner said: "What happened in Rwanda concerns every inhabitant of this land. France is with you and I say this in the name of France of the past days, present and future."

A probe by a Rwandan panel into the genocide said Hutu extremists in the country's then government were responsible for Habyarimana's death and that France was not involved.

However, it noted that French military officials stationed in Rwanda as part of a military agreement with the late president's regime had access to the plane wreckage.

Kigali has repeatedly accused France of siding with the Hutus who carried out the genocide, a charge Paris has always denied.

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