Rwandan genocide witnesses implicate French, November 6, 2006


An unprecedented public inquiry into France's role in the 1994 Rwanda genocide held hearings in Kigali last week, where the French Army was accused of complicity in massacres of Tutsis.

The seven-person French commission is hearing testimony from 20 survivors, some claiming serious human rights abuses, including rape and murder, by the French military.

The commission is also examining Operation Turquoise, the 1994 French military intervention ostensibly aimed at saving Rwandan lives. Human rights groups in France say French soldiers tricked thousands of Tutsi survivors out of hiding and abandoned them to the Interahamwe militia. Up to a million Tutsis died.

Close links existed between France and Rwanda, ruled by a Hutu dictatorship for 20 years. France was its biggest supplier of heavy military equipment and sent troops in 1990 to repel an offensive from Uganda by the largely Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front.

During nearly three years of civil war, senior French officers sometimes took operational battlefield control. In 1993, an international peace agreement replaced the French with UN peacekeepers, to monitor creation of a power-sharing democracy.

For years, the French Government denied any part in the genocide. Its own parliamentary inquiry in 1997 admitted only that France had underestimated the threat. But the inquiry did reveal that former President Francois Mitterrand had largely been responsible for Rwanda policy.

By 1994, the Rwandan Army had become a "military protege" of France. Before the genocide, 47 high-ranking French Army and gendarmerie officers were with the Rwanda military.

In April, 1994, French-trained officers from the Presidential Guard eliminated the pro-democracy and political opposition and French-trained soldiers began killing anyone with a Tutsi identity card.

The Rwanda Commission has evidence that the French trained the Interahamwe, and French officers were in commando training centres, where torture was practised and political opponents disappeared.

France refused to allow the UN Security Council to invoke the 1948 Genocide Convention to try to stop the killing. Then, after five weeks of murders, it launched its own military intervention.

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