French outrage at Rwanda genocide accusations
France is yet to rebut accusations of complicity in genocide, says Christopher Thompson in Paris
Sometimes the dead bite back. Rwanda, the tiny land-locked African country smaller than Switzerland, has accused France, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, of complicity in the killing of a million men, women and children in the genocide of 1994. The accusation was made in a report prepared over two years by Rwanda's public prosecutor, Jean Mucyo, who took testimony from 166 witnesses.
France has responded by condemning the report, presented at the end of last month, as "intolerable" - a charge duly echoed in its national press. Yet the French government has made no move to rebut the charges, while few in the media have made any effort to examine the testimony in any depth.
The fact is Rwanda's indictment has sent a shockwave through the Elysee Palace. The names of those implicated read like a Who's Who of the political establishment: 33
members of former President Francois Mitterrand's government and military, including ex-prime ministers Dominique de Villepin, Edouard Balladur and Alain Juppe, as well as generals and colonels.
The historical roots of the Rwandan atrocity go back to colonial times. After Rwanda gained independence from Belgium in 1962, the Hutu majority took over power. They blamed the minority Tutsis, who the Belgians had favoured with positions of influence, for the country's problems. Many Tutsis fled to neighbouring countries. During the late 1980s, Tutsi refugees in Uganda - including Rwanda's current President Paul Kagame - formed the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), an English-speaking armed group that plotted to overthrow Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana and restore Tutsi influence.
Mucyo's report emphasises the close links between the French army and the forces of Habyarimana, a Francophone. When the RPF launched an assault on Habyarimana's regime in October 1990, some French military advisors put on Rwandan uniforms. Documents from the French Defence
Ministry show that it authorised the export of £80m worth of munitions to Habyarimana.
So far so tawdry - but nothing that would surprise students of France's murky dealings in post-colonial Africa.
But the spread of weapons wasn't confined to the Rwandan military, according to Mucyo's report. It quotes a diplomatic message in 1992 from Colonel Bernard Cussac, the French military attache in the Rwandan capital of Kigali, concerning the distribution of arms to civilians. Also, it is claimed French instructors trained civilians to kill - with firearms, sharp weapons and by hand. This training was to be put to use in the genocide.
Mucyo's report says the French instructors could hardly have failed to anticipate what was going to happen. The head of the UN's military force in Rwanda at the time, Canada's General Romeo Dallaire, is quoted as saying that the French soldiers "were perfectly aware that something was being planned that could lead to large-scale slaughter". Diplomatic telegrams back this up. French soldiers who fought alongside Habyarimana's
Hutu army knew that the enemy was identified as ethnically Tutsi - but at no point did France urge restraint on its allies.
And so, when Habyarimana's plane was shot down in mysterious circumstances on April 6, 1994, the simmering ethnic tensions erupted. Approximately one million people, mainly Tutsis, were killed in the next 100 days.
Three weeks after the genocide began, with tens of thousands already butchered, two Rwandan government envoys, Jerome Bicamumpaka and Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza, to whom Belgium and the US had refused visas, were received by President Mitterand and Prime Minister Balladur. France paid for and sent arms to the Hutu forces according to credible witnesses. A Boeing 707 carrying weapons landed five times at Goma in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo during the genocide.
Although France deems the report "unacceptable" it has so far failed to provide any evidence to rebut it. Critics say the Mucyo report is politicised grandstanding - revenge for claims made in November 2006 when a French judge, Jean-Louis Bruguiere, accused Kagame and his army of triggering the genocide by shooting down Habyarimana's plane.
It is true that Mucyo's report is partially in response to Judge Bruguiere's accusation, but the testimonies of those collected in public in Kigali - in full view of international news agencies, including Westerners, victims and perpetrators of the massacre - is hard to refute.
To add insult to injury, Rwanda has
declared its courts have universal jurisdiction over crimes of genocide on its soil. So will we be seeing French politicians being transferred to the Hague, awaiting trial in central Africa? Unlikely, but Mucyo has prompted one influential French non-governmental organisation, Survie (Survival), to demand another official inquiry into France's role in the horrors of 1994.It is worth noting that many Tutsi refugees said that the French restrained the Interahamwe militia under their control and thus saved thousands of lives. But it will do little to obscure the fact that France's role in the worst genocide since World War II appears to go wider and deeper than anyone expected.
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