Rwandan commission probes claims that French troops backed genocide

A RWANDAN government-appointed commission launched a probe yesterday into allegations French troops supported soldiers behind Rwanda’s 1994 genocide and helped facilitate mass murder.

Rwanda’s Tutsi President Paul Kagame, whose government came to power after the genocide, has accused France of training and arming Hutu militias who were the main force behind a 100-day slaughter that killed 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

France had replaced ex-colonial power Belgium as Rwanda’s main Western backer. When Mr Kagame’s Tutsi-dominated rebel army launched its war against the Hutu authorities in the early 1990s, France sent soldiers to Kigali.

France helped stop the advance of Mr Kagame’s forces and then stayed on, as military advisers, up to the start of the genocide.

Kigali says France backed the government of Rwanda’s former President Juvenal Habyarimana, providing military training for government forces, despite knowing that some within the leadership were planning to use the troops for genocide.

France, which sent in soldiers under a UN operation, denied involvement.

Officials said a seven-man commission, appointed by the government in April, will hear testimony from 20 witnesses over the next week. The testimony could be used as evidence in any legal action taken by Mr Kigali against France.

“We will summon people like former militiamen who were trained and commanded by the French to kill as well as female survivors who accuse some French soldiers of rape,” Jean Paul Kimonyo a member of the commission said.

“We are also going to invite foreign witnesses including French nationals to testify before the commission.”

A French parliamentary commission in 1998 cleared France of responsibility for the genocide.

“The French sent troops, weapons, trained killers and manned roadblocks to facilitate murderers in achieving their mission of exterminating Tutsis,” Jacques Bihozagara, a former Rwandan ambassador to France, told the commission.

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