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France-Rwanda relations since the 1994 genocide

Published on March 12, 2019

France and Rwanda have had stormy relations since the 1994 genocide in the east-central African nation, which has now invited President Emmanuel Macron to attend commemorations on the 25th anniversary of the tragedy in April.

Here is a chronology of those relations:

– 1994: Genocide –

On April 6, 1994, Rwanda’s Hutu president Juvenal Habyarimana is killed when his aircraft is shot down over Kigali.

The next day the genocide begins. From April to July 4, according to the United Nations, around 800,000 people are killed, most of them from the Tutsi minority, as well as moderate Hutus.

The Tutsis are accused by the Hutu-dominated regime of colluding with rebels from the Rwandan Patriotic Front (FPR), who had entered northern Rwanda from Uganda since 1990.

Some 500 French paratroopers evacuate more than 1,000 French citizens and foreigners.

– Operation Turquoise –

On June 22 the United Nations gives France the green light for Operation Turquoise, a military operation in Rwanda with humanitarian ends.

The mainly Tutsi FPR accuses France of seeking to save the Hutu regime and the perpetrators of the genocide.

The operation mobilises up to 2,500 French soldiers and creates a safe humanitarian zone in the south west, effectively hindering the FPR’s advance. On July 4 the FPR seizes the capital Kigali, ending the genocide.

– 1998: French probe –

In December 1998 a French parliamentary mission exonerates France from involvement in the genocide, but says it bears some responsibility due to strategic error and “institutional disfunction”.

Rwanda accuses France of being guilty of genocide in the country.

– 2006: Relations broken –

In November 2006 French judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere recommends Rwandan President Paul Kagame be prosecuted by the UN-backed tribunal trying Rwanda’s genocide suspects for suspected participation in Habyarimana’s assassination. He signs nine arrest warrants against Kagame’s aides.

Rwanda breaks off all diplomatic relations with France.

Relations are not restored until November 2009.

– 2010: France admits mistakes –

In February 2010 then French president Nicolas Sarkozy acknowledges France made mistakes during the genocide and pays homage to the victims.

However, he stops short of apologising during the first visit to Rwanda by a French president since the genocide.

In September 2011 Kagame makes his first official visit to France.

– 2014: French genocide trials –

In March 2014 a French court sentences a former Rwandan army captain to 25 years in prison in the country’s first trial linked to the genocide.

In July 2016 two former Rwandan mayors are sentenced in France to life in jail.

– New Rwandan accusations –

In April 2014 on the 20th anniversary of the genocide commemorations are held in Kigali without a French representative.

On the eve of commemorations Kagame again accuses France of “participating” in the genocide.

– 2018: Detente –

In May 2018 Macron hosts Kagame in Paris, saying the normalisation of relations is under way but “will no doubt take time”.

In December 2018 French judges drop a long-running investigation into the killing of Habyarimana.

The probe had been a major source of tension between the two countries after seven people close to Kagame were charged.

Kagame says he wants relations between the two countries to have a fresh start and has not ruled out the return of a French ambassador to Kigali, the post being vacant since October 2015.