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Rwanda’s Kagame arrives in France – but for UN meeting

AFP

Rwandan President Paul Kagame arrives in Paris on Friday to attend a meeting of the UN's cultural agency. But he is not expected to meet French officials while in the country, which he regularly accuses of complicity in the 1994 genocide.

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Kagame has not visited France since September 2011 and Friday’s visit will be his first since an April 2014 lambast against French "participation” in the genocide during the 20th anniversary of the mass killings.

Rwandan officials have been careful to stress that Kagame will be in France for a meeting at UNESCO’s Paris headquarters and not for a bilateral visit.

"President Kagame will arrive in Paris on Friday for a meeting of the UNESCO ITU (International Telecommunication Union), where he is a co-chair of the broadband commission," Kagame spokeswoman Stephanie Nyombayire told AFP.

Relations between the countries were completely frozen from 2006 to 2009. But while bilateral diplomatic ties have resumed, tensions have simmered between the two countries.

Paris has repeatedly denied the accusations and insisted that French peacekeeping forces had worked to protect civilians during the genocide.

Accusations fly back and forth

A number of French civil society groups however have pushed for greater accountability over the murky period, when French peacekeepers under the French-led “Opération Turquoise” were posted in the region. Critics accused French peacekeeping force, positioned on the Rwandan border, of letting Hutu members of the Armed Forces of Rwanda cross the border into Zaire after massacring Tutsis.

In an interview with FRANCE 24 last year, Patrick Baudouin, president of the International Federation for Human Rights, said the “political will was long lacking” in France, as “Opération Turquoise” was an episode many French political leaders would rather forget.

Baudouin was speaking to FRANCE 24 ahead of the start of a landmark trial in Paris -- the first of its kind in France -- of a former Rwandan army captain charged with complicity in the 1994 genocide.

Pascal Simbikangwa was found guilty of complicity in genocide and crimes against humanity. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

But French civil society groups have also accused Kagame of brutally crushing the opposition and senior opposition figures in the tiny African nation.

According to Augustin Sebahakwa, president of COVIGLA (Collectif des victimes des crimes de masse commis dans la région des Grands Lacs africains) Kagame’s administration has been committing "serious" human rights violation. "In Rwanda, people disappear or are arbitrarily imprisoned,” he told FRANCE 24, noting that a 2008 law criminalising Holocaust denial was being exploited to crush opposition figures.

On Friday, protestors are due to hold a rally against Kagame near the Paris offices of UNESCO.

 

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