Rwandan president's reconciliation visit to France

8th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

Rwandan President Paul Kagame will Monday make his first official visit to France since the 1994 genocide, to rebuild relations damaged by Kigali's accusation of French complicity in the massacres.

The two-day visit mirrors that of Nicolas Sarkozy in February 2010 to Kigali, the first by a French head of state since the Rwandan genocide.

Paris and Kigali resumed diplomatic relations in 2009 after they broke down in 2006 due to a judicial investigation in France on events that marked the beginning of the genocide.

During his visit to Kigali, Sarkozy acknowledged "a form of blindness" in Paris for not having "seen the size of the genocidal" Hutu regime in Rwanda at the time, remarks welcomed by Kagame.

More than 800,000 people, mainly from the Tutsi ethnic group, were massacred between April and June 1994, before the rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) led by Kagame took power in July 1994.

"President Kagame's visit to Paris is a step in the normalization of relations" between the two countries, Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo told AFP, but cautioned the "process does not happen in one day."

As one sign of those difficulties, France's Foreign Minister Alain Juppe will be away from Paris during Kagame's visit, on a trip to the Pacific region.

After taking office in March, Juppe warned he would not meet Kagame due to a Rwandan report accusing France of complicity with the genocide, which he described as a "tissue of lies and inventions."

Juppe, also foreign minister in 1994, is one of many French officials implicated in 2008 of alleged involvement in the genocide by a commission chaired by former Rwandan minister Jean de Dieu Mucyo.

"A little too much is made on the matter of minister Juppe and Rwanda," Mushikiwabo added. "It may be interesting for the media, but for Rwanda, it does not bother us at all."

However, Mushikiwabo said that Mucyo's report remained "valid."

"It would be dishonest to start saying now that there were no problems with certain French officials, both political and military, during the genocide...We cannot deny that to change history," she said.

In contrast, an association of former French soldiers who participated in a 1994 joint military-humanitarian mission to Rwanda has described Kagame's visit as an "insult to the French military who served" in the country.

Some diplomats in Paris also question the appropriateness of the visit, as Kagame's regime shifts away, they say, from democracy and the defence of human rights.

Two opposition parties not recognized by Rwanda, the FDU and the RNC, accuse Paris of "double standards" by welcoming Kagame at the same time as helping to topple Libya's Moamer Kadhafi, two persons whom they claim are similar.

The FDU's leader Victoire Ingabire is on trial since Monday in a Kigali court on terrorism charges.

However, Kigali hopes for the visit will encourage greater French investment in energy, infrastructure and tourism sectors.

Kagame will meet with French employers Tuesday, where opposition FDU and RNC supporters plan to hold a protest rally outside.

© 2011 AFP

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