France has reacted with fury after the Rwandan president, Paul Kagame, renewed accusations of direct French involvement in the 1994 genocide, on the eve of ceremonies marking the 20th anniversary.
The French government announced that the justice minister, Christiane Taubira, would not attend the commemorations in Kigali after Kagame, in an interview with the weekly magazine Jeune Afrique, accused both France and Belgium of having a “direct role” in the genocide.
A total 800,000 minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in the four-month killing spree triggered by the assassination of Rwanda’s Hutu president Juvénal Habyarimana.
The spirited French reaction highlights France’s tormented relations with Rwanda since Kagame, the former leader of the Tutsi rebels who swept to power after the genocide, became president.
Didier Reynders, the foreign minister of Belgium, the former colonial power in Rwanda, said he still intended to travel to Kigali to pay homage to the victims and their families. “We are not going to pay homage to the current Rwandan government,” Reynders said on Sunday.
The French foreign minister at the time of the 1994 massacres, Alain Juppé, said Kagame’s comments were a “falsification of history”.
Kagame notably said that France had not “done enough to save lives” by mounting Operation Turquoise in the west of the country, and had not only been complicit but “an actor” in the massacre of Tutsis.
He pointed to “the direct role of Belgium and France in the political preparation of the genocide, and the participation of the latter in its actual execution”.
Juppé said it was “intolerable that we are being designated as the main culprits.” He urged the French president, François Hollande, and the government to “defend without ambiguity the honour of France, and of its army and diplomats”.
France’s financial and military support of the Hutu authorities in Rwanda are at the root of Kagame’s suspicions. After two decades of mistrust, including a three-year break in diplomatic relations, there had been a tentative fence-mending in recent months. Last month France sentenced a Hutu former army captain, Pascal Simbikangwa, to 25 years in jail on genocide charges in the first such trial, and it has arrested a second suspect.
But Kagame shrugged off the verdict against Simbikangwa. “We’ll see what becomes of this sentence on appeal,” he told Jeune Afrique.