Spain's PM skips meeting over Rwandan leader's criticism

16th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

The Spanish head of government decided to skip a UN meeting Friday with Paul Kagame because he had noted criticism of the Rwandan leader over his country's genocide, Spain's vice president said.

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's decision not to attend the Madrid meeting on advancing the fight against poverty was announced Thursday when the government said he would be represented by Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos.

Zapatero had "received a request from certain political parties to not meet" Kagame because of Spanish legal proceedings against 40 Rwandan officers related to the 1994 genocide, Vice President Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega said.

He was "sensitive to that and responded" by deciding not to attend the meeting, where UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is also expected, she told public television TVE.

"We are going to meet with political groups to explain the decision," she said.

It was however important that the talks on the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) go ahead, de la Vega said.

Friday's meeting is the first of the MDG Advocacy Group set up last month by the United Nations to advance the goals, which include halving extreme poverty by 2015, with Zapatero and Kagame named co-chairs.

The Coordinating Committee for Development NGOs in Spain on Thursday said the UN's choice of Kagame for the post was "questionable".

It criticised "Zapatero's passivity for accepting without objection to work beside someone accused of genocide".

In 2008 Spain's High Court announced its intention to prosecute 40 Rwandan army officers for genocide, crimes against humanity and terrorism related to events that took place between 1994 and 2000, including under the Kagame's rule.

Kagame's then rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front in July 1994 ended its 100-day slaughter of at least 800,000 people, mostly from his Tutsi minority, by Hutu extremist militias and government troops.

But the Spanish judiciary accuses Kagame of fomenting the ethnic clashes in a bid to seize power. The Rwandan officers are accused, among other things, of murdering nine Spanish missionaries and expatriates allegedly witnesses to massacres.

Under Spanish law a court can prosecute human rights crimes even if the alleged offences took place abroad.

But Kagame is immune from prosecution because of his status as head of state. His government has vehemently rejected the accusations.

A lawyer for the families of the killed Spanish nationals said Zapatero's decision not to attend the meeting with Kagame was only window dressing.

The two leaders "are not going to pose together for the photograph, not meet in an official venue," Jordi Palou said national radio RNE.

But "Zapatero has not declined, until now, the invitation to co-preside this initiative", he said.

The foreign minister would still meet Kagame "and they are surely going to negotiate and talk, of course, about the judicial process," he said.

© 2010 AFP

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