France and Rwanda: Ghosts of genocide rattle relations

Mamos Media

This file photo taken on December 1, 2020 shows a general view of skulls of victims of the Tutsi genocide stored in a showcase in Gatwaro Genocide Memorial in Kibuye, western province of Rwanda. PHOTO/ AFP


France and Rwanda have had a stormy, sometimes poisonous relationship since the 1994 genocide.
With a commission of historians due to report on the role Paris played in the central African nation, this is a timeline of their fraught relations.

 1990: French go in 
Rwanda’s Hutu president Juvenal Habyarimana calls for help from France and former colonial power Belgian to fight off Ugandan-based rebels from the Rwandan Patriotic Front (FPR) led by Rwanda’s current president, Paul Kagame.
Paris sends troops in what is called “Operation Noroit” in October, officially to protect is embassy and citizens there. But France also secretly helps train the Rwandan army.

 1994: Genocide 
On April 6 Habyarimana is killed when his aircraft is shot down over Kigali.
The next day the genocide begins. From April to July 4 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 the FPR, who had entered northern Rwanda from Uganda in 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 slaughter.
Some 2,500 French soldiers create a safe humanitarian zone in the south west, effectively hindering the FPR’s advance but also allowing fleeing genocide suspects to hide. 
On July 4 the FPR seizes the capital Kigali, ending the genocide.

 1998: French probe 
A French parliamentary mission exonerates France from involvement in the genocide in December, but says it bears some responsibility due to strategic errors and “institutional dysfunction”. 
Rwanda insists France is guilty of genocide.
 2006: Relations broken off 
French judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere recommends President 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 for Kagame’s aides.

Rwanda breaks off diplomatic relations with France. Ties are not restored until November 2009.
 2010: France admits mistakes 
French president Nicolas Sarkozy acknowledges France made mistakes during the genocide. 
But he stops short of apologising during the first visit to Rwanda by a French president since the bloodbath.
In September 2011 Kagame makes his first official visit to France.

 2014: French genocide trials 
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 to life in jail in France.
 New Rwandan accusations 
Twentieth anniversary commemorations of the genocide are held in Kigali in April 2014 without a French representative.
Kagame again accuses France of “participating” in the genocide.

 2018: Detente 
President Emmanuel Macron hosts Kagame in Paris in May, saying the normalisation of relations is under way but “will no doubt take time”.
In December 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 a fresh start in relations and has not ruled out the return of a French ambassador to Kigali, a post vacant since October 2015.

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