French experts wind up plane crash probe in Kigali

17th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

French experts probing the 1994 downing of a plane carrying Rwanda's then president Juvenal Hbyarimana on Friday wound up their task of hearing witness testimonies and visiting key Kigali sites.

The five-member team including two anti-terrorism judges -- Marc Trevidic and Nathalie Poux -- surveyors, ballistics, explosives and fire experts sought to determine the origin of missiles that downed the plane.

Pre-genocide Hutu extremists and Tutsi rebels are both suspected of being behind the April 6, 1994 shooting of the Falcon 50 craft.

The French team, which arrived in Kigali on Saturday, suspect a commando unit of Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) rebels of infiltrating the Rwandan Hutu army and firing two missiles from Masaka hill east of the runway where the plane was coming in to land.

However, the RPF government now in power in Kigali blames the attack on Hutu extremists within the FAR seeking to eliminate Habyarimana in order to launch a coup.

According to a Rwandan report, backed up by a ballistic survey conducted by British experts, the missiles were fired from the Kanombe military camp, a big army base adjoining the airport and the presidential residence.

"The experts could not reach any conclusions at this stage because they gathered a lot of information throughout the week which they will have to analyse," Leon-Lef Forster, a defence lawyer for three Rwandan officials targeted in the probe, told AFP.

The killing of Habyarimana, who was travelling with his Burundian counterpart Cyprien Ntaryamira, is believed to have triggered the 1994 genocide which claimed the lives of some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

The two were returning from a summit in neighbouring Tanzania to revamp a 1993 peace deal aimed at setting up a transitional government and integrate the RPF rebels.

The French team is expected to present its report to the two judges before March 2011.

© 2010 AFP

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