French judges due in Rwanda over 1994 president's murder

10th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

French judges probing the 1994 assassination of Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana arrive in the central African country on Saturday to find out who shot down his official jet, judicial sources said.

Anger over the French probe into the April 6, 1994 attack led Kigali to break diplomatic ties with Paris in November 2006, when arrest warrants were issued against nine people close to President Paul Kagame.

The downing of Habyarimana's plane preceded the start of a three-month genocide that claimed 800,000 lives, mostly those of minority Tutsis, before then rebel Kagame's Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) seized power.

Diplomatic ties have now been restored after French relations with the former Belgian colony improved, despite officials from both sides having accused the other of complicity in the attack on the jet.

Taking advantage of the thaw, anti-terror judges Marc Trevidic and Nathalie Poux head to Kigali on Saturday to find out how the Falcon 50 carrying Habyarimana and Burundi president Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down.

The investigators plan to spend a week in Rwanda, according to sources close to the case, and the main goal of next week's visit is to determine from where the missiles that downed the plane were fired.

At present, the French judges -- who are investigating because the slain pilots were French -- suspect a commando squad of RPF Tutsi rebels infiltrated the lines of the then mainly Hutu Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR).

These infiltrators are suspected of firing two SAM-16 missiles from the Massaka hill overlooking the airport to the east of the runway where the plane was coming in to land at Kigali airport.

But Rwanda has made a different case, laying responsibility for the attack on "Hutu Power" extremists within the FAR who wanted to eliminate their fellow Hutu president in order to prepare a coup d'etat.

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 FAR base adjoining the airport and the presidential residence.

The French judges will go to both suspected sites with a team of experts in geometry, ballistics, explosives and fires, in a concerted attempt to find out where the attack came from and reconstitute the scene.

At the request of the defence, they will also take statements from witnesses and take copies of the many pieces of evidence that enabled Rwandan authorities to draw up their report.

The judges will also be accompanied by French police and by lawyers representing the families of the victims, who are plaintiffs in the inquiry.

The lawyers of three Rwandans close to Kagame and targeted by international arrest warrants that led to the diplomatic crisis between Paris and Kigali are also expected to be present, judicial sources said.

© 2010 AFP

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