Rwanda witness in Habyarimana plane attack probe 'kidnapped'

19th November 2014, Comments 0 comments

A Rwandan due to give evidence in France on the shooting down of former president Juvenal Habyarimana's plane -- the incident seen as sparking the genocide 20 years ago -- has been kidnapped, his lawyer claimed on Wednesday.

Emile Gafirita was handcuffed and taken away by unknown persons in the Kenyan capital Nairobi on November 13, his lawyer Francois Cantier told AFP.

"The Kenyan police have denied he was arrested, so he has clearly been kidnapped," said Cantier. "My sole concern is that they let him live and he is released."

Several witnesses in the investigation have already been killed or received death threats.

The attack of April 6, 1994 is widely seen as the incident that triggered sectarian violence between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups that led to 800,000 deaths over the following three months.

In July, two French judges, Marc Trevidic and Nathalie Poux, who have been investigating the incident since 2007, said they had concluded their work.

But shortly afterwards they announced the inquest was being reopened to hear Gafirita's evidence.

"He contacted me and said he wanted to give evidence and I made contact with the judges," said Cantier, adding that he was supposed to be heard in early December.

"This man is not a fantasist. If they decided to listen to him, to reopen the investigation, it's because they considered his testimony to be interesting."

The investigation had earlier been led by French magistrate Jean-Louis Bruguiere who accused the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front, led by the current president Paul Kagame, of being behind the attack.

But Bruguiere's report was heavily criticised by experts as well as the government -- which temporarily cut off diplomatic ties with France in the wake of the report.

Kagame's government released their own findings in 2010 which pinned the blame on Hutu military hardliners who had grown impatient with their leader Habyarimana and his moderate line.

A French expert study of the crash site released in January 2012 appeared to back Kagame's version of events.

The study, initiated by the current investigators Trevidic and Poux, provided scientific evidence indicating the missiles had been fired from the military camp of the Presidential Guard.

© 2014 AFP

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