Kagame says Rwanda aiming to join Commonwealth

16th February 2007, Comments 0 comments

LONDON, Feb 16, 2007 (AFP) - Rwanda wants to join the Commonwealth, the 53-nation grouping of former British colonies, in what will be seen as a rebuke to France, the country's President Paul Kagame said in an interview published in The Times on Friday.

LONDON, Feb 16, 2007 (AFP) - Rwanda wants to join the Commonwealth, the 53-nation grouping of former British colonies, in what will be seen as a rebuke to France, the country's President Paul Kagame said in an interview published in The Times on Friday.

Kagame added that France, which has had poor relations with Rwanda in recent months, was "hyping up" the death of his country's former leader Juvenal Habyarimana -- a French judge has called for Kagame to stand trial over Habyarimana's death.

"There are many benefits for us in joining the Commonwealth -- cultural, economic, political," Kagame was quoted as saying by the newspaper.

He told The Times that he had been invited to the next meeting of the Commonwealth, due to be held in Uganda in November, as an observer and said: "I hope they will then approve our membership. I am looking forward to it."

Kagame added that that his "entire experience of France and French influence" had been negative.

The move will be seen as a slap in the face for France -- though Rwanda is a former Belgian colony, following independence it was an important African state in the French-speaking world and had good relations with France.

Kagame has in the past angrily denied claims that he was involved in the shooting-down of Habyarimana's plane, and responded similarly in his interview with The Times.

A plane carrying Habyarimana, a Hutu, was downed on April 6, 1994, touching off the massacre of close to 800,000 people, mainly minority Tutsis.

After a French judge called for Kagame, a Tutsi, to face trial over Habyarimana's death, relations between Kigali and Paris worsened, eventually snapping in November when Rwanda expelled the French ambassador.

"They are hyping up the downing of the plane ... They are trying to present it as the event which started the genocide and divert attention from their prior support of the genocidal regime," Kagame told the newspaper.

"The preparation for genocide was going on (before the plane crashed) and was known by the international community, and particularly the French. They are trying to shift attention from that."

While the president reiterated that he would allow an independent investigation, he said that the issue should not overshadow the genocide.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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