Rwanda's shaken French enclave fears worst

28th November 2006, Comments 0 comments

KIGALI, Nov 28, 2006 (AFP) - Rwanda's tiny French community anxiously fretted Tuesday about their future after the abrupt cut in ties between Rwanda and France, and a surge in anti-French sentiment over the 1994 genocide.

KIGALI, Nov 28, 2006 (AFP) - Rwanda's tiny French community anxiously fretted Tuesday about their future after the abrupt cut in ties between Rwanda and France, and a surge in anti-French sentiment over the 1994 genocide.

Speaking in hushed tones and refusing telephone interviews, a handful of the some 230 French citizens remaining in Rwanda clung to a sliver of hope that relations might return to normal.

But the enclave remains isolated after the expulsion of all French diplomats and state employees, and faces the prospect of more anti-France demonstrations like one that took place Monday outside the empty embassy.

Many were gloomy. "What will we do about our papers? Renewing passports?" asked one French woman, who like all those interviewed by AFP demanded anonymity citing fears of retribution.

Most in the community of missionaries, aid workers and businesspersons wondered if they would be able to weather the storm of anti-French anger that some fear could rise to the level of that in Ivory Coast.

"For us this is a sad affair," said one Frenchman, who has lived in Rwanda for less than a year. "We don't feel directly threatened or in danger, but there is tension."

He noted that the situation was not as grave as in Ivory Coast where rampaging mobs attacked French citizens, businesses and other interests in November 2004, forcing the evacuation of some 8,000 expatriates.

"The authorities are controlling the people and seem not to want the situation to get out of hand, but perhaps one day we private French citizens will have to leave," he said.

Kigali on Friday severed diplomatic and cultural relations with France and gave French diplomats and state employees 72 hours to leave Rwanda as a major row over the events leading up to the genocide boiled over.

The breaking point came when France's top anti-terrorism judge said Rwandan President Paul Kagame should face trial for the assassination of his predecessor and issued arrest warrants for nine of his close aides.

Within days of Judge Jean-Louis Bruguière's announcement, 25,000 Rwandans rallied to denounce him and the alleged French complicity in the genocide in which some 800,000 people — mainly minority Tutsis — were killed.

Police dispersed Monday's protest outside the embassy, but with Kagame and senior Rwandan officials continuing to denounce France for being anti-Rwandan and involved in the genocide, the French community here is in a quandary.

Foreign Minister Charles Murigande says only French government employees are affected by the expulsion order.

"Only those working in government departments, be it the cultural center or the French school, should pack their bags and go," he told a Belgian newspaper. "But a Frenchman who sells bread or wine can stay."

Still, many are fearful that Rwandans venting anger may not always make that distinction.

During Monday's protest by a group of genocide survivors, marchers chanted anti-French slogans such as: "Who brought you misery? A Frenchman!"

Some in the French community believe the animosity is based in part on language, with the English-speaking Kagame — who fought against the francophone government in the former Belgian colony — convinced of French duplicity.

"There is a rivalry between francophone and anglophone Rwandans," said a cleric. "The anglophones, who came from Uganda like President Kagame, are fuelling the anti-French sentiment."

"For anglophones, France is the enemy that supported the Habyarimana regime," he said, referring to the former Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana whose death touched off the genocide and which French judge Brugiuère is investigating.

"With the Bruguière affair, they have the impression that France is still fighting them," the cleric said, adding that many Rwandans believe the arrest warrants are a cover for hiding France's complicity in the genocide.

The judge is investigating the downing of Habyarimana's plane on April 6, 1994 and accuses Kagame, then a rebel leader, of orchestrating it. Several French crew members were killed in the incident, prompting the French inquiry.

Kagame, who has always denied any role in the incident, has called the judge's allegations "rubbish."

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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