Kagame not demanding French genocide apology: AFP interview

12th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

President Paul Kagame of Rwanda told AFP on Monday he would not repeat his demand that France apologise for its role at the time of the 1994 genocide and wants the countries to turn the page.

In an interview in Paris shortly before he was to meet French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the Elysee Palace for lunch, Kagame said he hoped Rwanda and France would put aside past differences and build a closer relationship in the future.

"Really the whole purpose is to find ways of overcoming our differences over the past and going forward with a better relationship for the future," he said, 17 years after his forces ousted Rwanda's murderous former regime.

Relations between Paris and Kigali have been poisoned by anger over the 1994 massacres -- with each side accusing the other's officials of playing a greater role in the killing than they would ever admit.

Kagame's camp has accused previous French governments of collaborating with the former Hutu-led regime in its massacre of 800,000 mainly Tutsi people.

Meanwhile, a French judge has accused Kagame's supporters of shooting down a plane carrying the former Hutu president, an assassination the regime seized upon as an excuse to trigger the murderous rampage.

Some French military officers and government officials are furious Sarkozy has invited Kagame to Paris without insisting he first withdraw the report of a Rwandan inquiry that accused French troops of murder and rape.

But Sarkozy visited Kigali last year and admitted that France had shown "a kind of blindness" in dealing with the former regime, and both leaders now back a process of reconciliation between their countries.

Asked whether he maintained his call for an apology, Kagame said that this was a matter for anyone whose conscience was not clear.

"Apologies or no apologies, I prefer to leave these matters to the people in that situation. I can't force anyone. I can't beg anyone," he said.

"I don't have to educate anyone on anything as to how they deal with their conscience or they deal with different situations that fall under their responsibility. I don't want to deal with it that way at all."

Asked about the protests by French officials opposed to his visit, Kagame said: "There is not much I can say and do for the people who are not happy."

"As for the people in France opposed to the visit I will leave the matter to them. I can't really do much about it. I'll also leave it to the leaders of this country to manage it, and they know how to manage it," he said

"We have had a long history of a relationship with France ... including those things which led to those difficulties you pointed to. But I don't think it does any good for anyone for us to get lost in that different past.

"We don't want to be held back by what has happened in the past. We find ways of managing that, we find ways of learning lessons ... and always focus on a better future. That's what characterises this visit," he said.

Sarkozy's own foreign minister, Alain Juppe, was serving in the same role under a previous French government and was one of the French officials named as a genocide collaborator in the Rwandan official inquiry.

He has denied the charge, and said on returning to the job last year that he would not shake Kagame's hand until the accusation was withdrawn. This week he avoided the visit by attending a conference of Pacific rim states.

Kagame laughed off Juppe's apparent snub, referring the matter to a smiling Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo, who was at his side during the interview in Paris' glittering Ritz Hotel.

"Alain Juppe is not my counterpart. Maybe my minister of foreign affairs is not happy, but for me, he doesn't come to my mind at all. I'm dealing with the president," Kagame said.

"I think the president has been looking at issues maybe in the right way and that is what has allowed us to have this opportunity to re-engage, to deal with the most important issues."

Before the visit, some experts argued that Rwanda was drawing closer to France after seeing its stock fall with its allies in Britain and the United States, where there are concerns about Kagame's rights record.

But Kagame laughed off this idea as "just a joke."

"You think so?" he demanded. "I don't think so. It's just ridiculous. The UK actually increased the support that it gives, but the previous support that it has given has had a transforming effect on people's lives."

Earlier, during an address the Rwandan leader gave at the French Institute of Foreign Relations, he clashed with human rights activists who accused him of jailing opponents and cracking down on press freedom.

Kagame angrily dismissed the public complaint, and in his AFP interview insisted he still had the support of the mass of his people for his development programme, which he boasted has had impressive results.

"Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders have said the same thing all the time for the last 17 years. The only change they see is for the worse, not the better" he said.

"But what I'm interested in is where you put the voice of the masses, to the people of Rwanda," he insisted.

"It is not something that consumes most of my time. Most of their time is consumed developing the country. My time is consumed transforming their lives, economically, socially. And that's what's happening."

© 2011 AFP

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