Rwanda to mark 25th anniversary of genocide, as France examines own role
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Rwanda on Sunday commemorates the 25th anniversary of the genocide in which at least 800,000 mainly Tutsi people were beaten, hacked or shot to death in 100 days of slaughter.
A quarter of a century on, the east African nation has recovered economically, but the trauma still casts a long, dark shadow.
On Sunday, as is the tradition every April 7 – the day the genocide began – President Paul Kagame will light a remembrance flame at the Kigali Genocide Memorial, where more than 250,000 victims are thought to be buried.
It marks the beginning of a week of commemoration activities, and the start of 100 days of national mourning.
In the afternoon, Kagame, who led the rebels who chased the genocidal killers out of Rwanda and has been in power ever since, will preside over a ceremony at the main football stadium in the capital.
The Amahoro National Stadium – named for "peace" in Rwanda's Kinyarwanda language – was used by the UN during the genocide to protect thousands of Tutsis from being massacred on the streets outside.
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The genocidal Hutu forces, members of the old army and militia forces called the "Interahamwe", had been cheered on by blood-curdling anti-Tutsi propaganda that began on April 7, 1994, the day after the assassination of President Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu.
Kagame, then 36, was a rebel general when he led the mainly Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) into Kigali on July 4, ending the ethnic slaughter.
Fraught relationship with France
On Friday, French President Emmanuel Macron appointed a commission to shed light on the murky subject of France's actions in the country during the massacres – a subject that has dogged Franco-Rwandan relations for a quarter of a century.
Rwanda accuses France of having supported the ethnic Hutu forces behind most of the killing and of helping some of the perpetrators to escape, allegations Paris rejects.
The commission's panel of eight experts "will be tasked with consulting all France's archives relating to the genocide... in order to analyse the role and engagement of France during that period," the presidency said.
The Friday announcement was timed to coincide with a meeting between Macron and the Ibuka association of genocide survivors, the first such encounter with a French president.
Marcel Kabanda, the 62-year-old president of Ibuka France whose family was wiped out in the Rwandan genocide, hailed the creation of the commission as a "strong gesture".
However, he also urged caution. "We have often been disappointed, we have often been betrayed," referring to a 2015 promise by then president François Hollande to open the state's archives on the genocide that ended up being very limited in scope.
Macron disappointed many genocide survivors hoping for an official French apology when he turned down an invitation from Kagame to attend this weekend's commemorations in Rwanda.
The presidency cited scheduling difficulties and sent a young MP of Rwandan origin, Hervé Berville, instead.
Hunting genocide suspects
The French presidency said historians would take two years to study the entire period from 1990 to 1994 to "contribute to a better understanding and knowledge of the genocide of Tutsis".
Their findings will be used in material used to teach children in France about the genocide, the presidency added.
The moves aim to definitively turn the page on quarter of a century of acrimony and mutual recrimination between France and Rwanda.
Paris has always denied being complicit in the genocide, saying that UN-mandated French soldiers deployed in Rwanda in the final weeks of the genocide did their best under difficult circumstances.
The perceived foot-dragging by France on bringing genocide suspects living in France to justice also aggravated the tensions.
Macron announced Friday he would boost the judicial unit in charge of investigating Rwandan genocide cases so that suspects "could be tried in a reasonable amount of time".
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)