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Rwanda remembers, sans France

April 7, 2014

The French ambassador in Kigali has said that he is no longer invited to ceremonies marking the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda. Rwanda had accused France of being "associated" with the 1994 killings.

Ruanda Genozid Gedenken Archiv 04.04.2014
Image: Getty Images

France's ambassador to Rwanda, Michel Flesch, told the AFP news agency on Monday that he was no longer invited to ceremonies in Kigali marking 20 years since the start of the Rwandan genocide. France had previously decided to send Flesch and not a ministerial delegation, following accusations of complicity in the genocide from the government in Kigali.

"Yesterday night the Rwandan foreign ministry telephoned to inform me that I was no longer accredited for the ceremonies," ambassador Michel Flesch told AFP.

French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira was initially scheduled to participate but pulled out after Rwandan President Paul Kagame accused the French government of the time of "participation" in the deaths of some 800,000 ethnic Tutsis.

International inaction

The months of violence - mainly by Rwanda's Hutu population against Tutsis - began in earnest on April 7, 1994, one day after the assassination of President Jevenal Habyarimana, a Hutu. France was close to the Hutu government prior to the killings, but has consistently denied any complicity in the genocide. Former colonial power Belgium, unlike France, has formally apologized to Rwanda's current Tutsi government for failing to prevent the killings.

The killings lasted for around 100 days without any major international intervention. A small UN peacekeeping force present in Rwanda was drastically reduced in numbers - from around 2,500 to just over 250 - in the weeks after the fighting began. The international community also shied away from labeling the killings as "genocide," an action that might have enabled a more purposeful UN response. The US president at the time, Bill Clinton, later described the bloodshed as his biggest regret of his eight years in office, saying he believed international intervention might have saved as many as 300,000 lives.

Paul Kagame Präsident Ruanda
President Kagame said France and Belgium played a "direct role" in "political preparation for genocide"Image: picture-alliance/dpa

'Difficult truth'

Rwanda's foreign minister had on Sunday urged France to face up to what she called the "difficult truth" of the actions of President Francois Mitterand's government two decades ago.

"For our two countries to really start getting along, we will have to face the truth. The truth is difficult, the truth of being close to anybody who is associated with genocide understandably is a very difficult truth to accept," Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said.

Critics also allege that France later became a comparatively safe haven for Rwandans seeking to escape trial after the killings. A court in Paris recently convicted a former Rwandan intelligence official, Pascal Simbikangwa, in the first ever trial in France pertaining to the 1994 genocide.

US President Barack Obama described the 1994 bloodshed as "neither an accident nor unavoidable," saying late on Sunday that the anniversary should be a reminder to "resist our worse instincts" and remember "our obligations to our fellow man."

The German Bundestag held a memorial in honor of the Rwandan genocide on Friday, in which Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told his colleagues that the main lesson to be learned read: "Never again!"

The Bundestag's special representative for human rights, Christoph Strässer, will represent Germany at Monday's ceremonies in Kigali.

msh/hc (AFP, Reuters)