The serious rift between Rwanda and France was deeply aggravated by a Rwandan government report released yesterday reconfirming that the 1994 genocide was started by extremist Hutus.
This may not seem like news. The rest of the world has already accepted this. But this begins what I hope is the Last Act in this horrible history.
The April, 1994, genocide was of more than 800,000 Watutsis carried out by Hutus. No denial of this. But France has always contended that rebel Watutsis were responsible for the event which led to their own massacre.
This event was the shooting down of the (Hutu) presidential jet as it began to land in Kigali on April 6, 1994, by a sophisticated air-to-surface missile fired from quite near the airport. Everyone aboard was killed, including the Hutu president of the country.
The U.N., France and Belgium had soldiers in the country because of the growing tensions between the Hutu government and the Watutsis. French soldiers were the first to arrive at the scene of the crash. They walked away with the plane’s flight recorder and have never surrendered it to the Rwandan government or U.N. authorities.
In the day or so immediately after the plane’s being shot down — before the actual slaughter began — The French government sided with the official Hutu government outrage that claimed Watutsi rebels had shot down the plane.
Because of President Clinton’s political fatigue with ‘Blackhawk Down’ in Somali, and because of the French position on who was responsible for shooting down the presidential plane, France and the U.S. blocked efforts by other countries in the U.N. to send more peace-keeping troops to Rwanda.
And so the genocide began unabated.
Rwanda has never forgiven France for using this pretense to stop the U.N. from possibly having beefed up its military mission enough to have stopped the genocide.
France has never forgiven the current Watutsi government in Rwanda for what it considered a gruesome way to come to power: fire the first shot knowing this would provoke the Hutu genocide of your own tribe, and thereby provide justification for the massive retaliation that organized Watutsis rebels mounted from neighboring Uganda.
Most of the world does not believe France. But France has hardened its position over the years. The plane that was shot down on April 6, 1994, was carrying a Hutu president returning from a peace conference with Watutsi rebels. France contends that the deal he had struck with Watutsi politicians would have cut out the massive Watutsi rebel military, headed by Paul Kagume, the current Rwandan president.
France acknowledged the horrible genocide that occurred by Hutu against Watutsi, and France never tried justifying this, of course. But when the huge Watutsi rebel military poured into the country from Uganda where it had been training, and relatively quickly stopped the genocide, France was furious.
“Why had they waited?!” was the basic French contention that the Watutsi military had allowed the genocide of 800,000 of its own tribe, just to justify their military coming to power.
France began massive aid helping the Hutu refugees that began fleeing into neighboring Congo. In the years which followed, many of these Hutu refugee camps became military training centers for the dreaded “Interamwe” which began raids back against the new Rwandan government and continues today to cause havoc in eastern Congo.
The feud deepened recently when French undercover agents in Germany arrested Rose Kabuye, the current Rwandan President Kagume’s chief of protocol. A French magistrate charged her with “complicity in murder in relation to terrorism” over the downing of the plane.
France claims that Kabuye – who was a rebel Watutsi fighter at the time — was personally involved in the plot to shoot down the plane in 1994. The French government refused some international suggestions that the U.N. Rwandan Tribunal be allowed to try the case.
France has always believed the Tribunal was biased. French authorities said that only the French justice system was capable of ultimately resolving the facts.
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I think we can trust the French justice system. The French lawyer for Kabuye believes he will be able to submit the Rwandan government report as evidence to support her case, and that ultimately the long French position will finally be proved wrong, as it has been assumed wrong by the rest of the world for more than 15 years.
I hope so. It isn’t just that the continuation of this ridiculous feud between France and Rwanda is impeding all sorts of local development in the area, it is the terrifying possibility that France is right.
For if France is right, no respectable country could continue to support the current Rwanda regime.