Author Topic: Claims of French Complicity in Rwanda’s Genocide Rekindle Mutual Resentment  (Read 949 times)

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Offline mayya

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Claims of French Complicity in Rwanda’s Genocide Rekindle Mutual Resentment


A remembrance ceremony in Kigali on Tuesday. France has shown a reluctance to fully examine its role in the massacres. CreditChip Somodevilla/Getty Images
PARIS — Is it possible to commemorate a world tragedy without opening old wounds?
That question reverberated across continents this week when the anniversary of the Rwandan genocide rekindled longstanding diplomatic tension between Rwanda and France.

The acrimony between their political leaders centers on France’s role in the tragedy, which was thrust back into the open by sharp remarks from Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame, on the eve of somber ceremonies to mark the 1994 genocide. France, he said, bore part of the responsibility for the carnage that killed more than 800,000 people, mostly members of the Tutsi minority.
French political leaders responded defensively, canceling plans for the French justice minister to attend the commemoration and, in most cases, angrily denouncing Mr. Kagame’s assertions. What might have been a moment to foster reconciliation between the two countries instead inflamed old resentments and illustrated how both nations still struggle to come to terms with the horrifying events two decades ago.

In the years leading up to the genocide, the French government supported the government of Rwanda, which was then dominated by the Hutu majority, helping to equip, arm and, according to many, train the Rwandan military. Many of those same military forces later spearheaded the slaughter of Tutsis after Rwanda’s president at the time, Juvenal Habyarimana, was killed in April 1994.

As the genocide unfolded and France continued to support the Hutu government, French troops were in the lead among peacekeeping forces sent to Rwanda under a United Nations mandate to offer humanitarian aid and protect civilians on all sides.

During an especially contentious episode that continues to provoke conflicting assessments, the area where French forces were assigned to protect civilians, both Tutsis and Hutus fleeing the violence, became the site of further killing by Hutu forces. In addition, many of the perpetrators of the genocide fled the country along roads that went through the French-patrolled area, which was supposed to be a humanitarian corridor.

Varying views have emerged on whether the French presence simply proved insufficient, or whether the French were actually countenancing or even supporting the Hutu attackers. Mr. Kagame this week said that the French were indeed guilty of “participation” in massacres within the humanitarian zone.

Beyond that, a number of Hutus suspected of being involved in the genocide later fled Rwanda and settled in France. Yet no significant French legal action was taken against them until this year, when the first — and, so far, only — French prosecution of such an émigré on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity occurred in Paris.

“It is unacceptable to lay blame on France,” Alain Juppé, France’s foreign affairs minister in 1994, wrote on his blog in response to Mr. Kagame’s assertions that French soldiers were “actors” in the genocide. “I call on the president of the Republic and the French government to defend without ambiguity the honor of France, the honor of its army, the honor of its diplomats.”
France has long struggled with confronting polarizing periods in its history, including the war in Algeria from 1954 to 1962 and the period of Nazi collaboration during World War II.

In the case of Rwanda, French officials seemed particularly resentful of Mr. Kagame’s allegations because, they said, they had done more than many nations to try to protect civilians.

Édouard Balladur, the prime minister at the time of the Rwandan massacre, termed Mr. Kagame’s charges of French complicity and responsibility “a self-interested lie.” France, he said, “of all the countries in the world is the only one that took the initiative to organize a humanitarian operation in order to avoid a generalized massacre.”

Intensifying France’s anger was that the accusations came from Mr. Kagame, a complex leader who has been accused of supporting rebel movements in the Democratic Republic of Congo and ruthlessly suppressing political rivals. He is alternately viewed as a savior of his battered country and as an authoritarian ruler willing to kill opponents rather than tolerate challenges to his government.

“In France, there are so many things to face,” said André Guichaoua, an expert on Rwanda who teaches sociology at the Sorbonne.

There is a need for “acknowledging errors, yes, but acknowledging inventions, no,” Professor Guichaoua said, referring to Mr. Kagame’s broad indictment of the French. “It is for the justice system to rule on the crimes committed.”
But France has also shown an unwillingness to fully investigate and discuss its role in Rwanda, a stance that contrasts rather strikingly with the soul-searching of leaders in other countries.
Former President Bill Clinton, for instance, again expressed regret last year that he had not proposed an American intervention earlier in Rwanda, telling an interviewer, “If we’d gone in sooner, I believe we could have saved at least a third of the lives that were lost.”

“It had an enduring impact on me,” Mr. Clinton said.

In Belgium, the other country that Mr. Kagame blamed for the Rwandan tragedy, there was a public inquiry into the country’s role, a point emphasized by a rare dissident voice in France, that of Bernard Kouchner, a co-founder of Doctors Without Borders and a foreign minister during the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy.

Mr. Kouchner urged the French government to follow the example of Belgium and hold an open parliamentary debate with a judicial commission. The Green Party called for an opening of France’s government archives, and the lead editorial on Tuesday in Le Monde, viewed as France’s newspaper of record, advised the same.

“We were on a broad path of reconciliation,” Mr. Kouchner told RTL radio on Sunday, referring to an easing of tension between the France and Rwanda that accelerated under Mr. Sarkozy. Now, he said, “we are going backward, which is deplorable.”

A version of this news analysis appears in print on April 9, 2014, on page A6 of the New York edition with the headline: Claims of French Complicity in Rwanda’s Genocide Rekindle Mutual Resentment. Order Reprints|Today's Paper|Subscribe