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New evidence puts France's role in Rwanda's 1994 genocide back in the spotlight

Published by RFI on February 15, 2021.

July 1, 1994, marines intervened in Butare, Rwanda. (Jose Nicolas/Hans Lucas/AFP)

According to a diplomatic cable, the authorities in Paris helped suspects in the 1994 Rwanda genocide to escape while under French military protection. The revelation has rekindled Kigali's allegations that France secretly supported Hutu forces who orchestrated the massacres.

The document, which came to light on Sunday from a lawyer researching France's actions during the genocide, was written by France's envoy to Rwanda which suggested that Paris knew suspects had sought refuge in a "humanitarian safe zone" controlled by French soldiers.

The soldiers had arrived in June 1994 as part of the UN-mandated Operation Turquoise to stop the massacres that left at least 800,000 people dead, mainly among the Tutsi ethnic minority.

French envoy to Rwanda Yannick Gerard wrote to his superiors to ask what to do with the genocide suspects, in a cable found in the archives of an adviser to President François Mitterrand, the incumbent at the time.

"We have no other choice... but to arrest them or place them immediately under house arrest to wait for international judicial authorities to decide their case," Gerard wrote, in excerpts of the cable first published by French investigative website Mediapart on Sunday.

'All indirect channels'

The cable was discovered by François Graner, a lawyer who works with the victims' rights group "Survie" and who won a years-long battle in June 2020 to access to Mitterrand's archives.

In response, French foreign ministry officials told Gerard: "You can... use all indirect channels, especially your African contacts, without exposing yourself directly, to transmit to these authorities our wish that they leave the Humanitarian Safe Zone."

"You will note in particular that the international community, and in particular the United Nations, will determine very soon how to proceed with these so-called authorities," it continued, referring to the former Hutu regime who had sought refuge in southwest Rwanda near the border with what was then Zaire.

It is signed by Bernard Emie, a foreign ministry adviser who is now the head of France's DGSE foreign intelligence service.

According to Graner, "It's the missing written piece of evidence, an essential piece of the puzzle."

Tensions have remained fraught between Rwanda and France, which has always denied claims that it sided with the Hutu regime and failed to stop the surge in anti-Tutsi hatred following the 1994 assassination of then-president Juvenal Habyarimana.

But in 2019, President Emmanuel Macron announced the creation of an expert panel of historians and researchers to look into the claims, widely hailed as an effort to confront France's troubled past in Africa.

While Rwanda was never a French colony, successive French governments cultivated close ties after the country's independence from Belgium in 1962, including training its top military leaders.

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