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Rwanda genocide: Will new report close the book on who started it?

The Mutszini report released Monday collects new Belgian military testimony, ballistics investigations by British experts, previous UN reports, and some 557 witness testimonies – in an effort to take a definitive position on the April 6, 1994 presidential assassination that started the Rwanda genocide.

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Analysts say the questions it raises about French military advisers, such as the shadowy Paul Barril and commando leader Gregoire de Saint-Quentin, are largely unanswered. Most of the alleged involvement of French advisers were under the governments of former Presidents François Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac and are part of a significant Franco-African axis of business and dealings in postcolonial Africa – the darker side of which Mr. Sarkozy's government is trying to eclipse.

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In 2008, Kagame's chief of protocol, Rose Kabuye, was arrested at an airport in Germany under one of nine warrants Bruguiere issued against Kagame aides for the downing of Habyarimana's plane.

Noting that Mr. Kouchner, France's foreign minister, was greeted at the airport in Rwanda's capital, Kigali, in November by Ms. Kabuye, the newspaper Marianne opined that: “French diplomacy must be ready take a lot upon itself to accept without protest such a diplomatic offense – a Republic minister shaking the hand of a person who is under judicial investigation for a terrorist act,” going on to say it borders on “repentence.”

Kouchner did not go that far in Kigali, despite Rwandan efforts to gain an apology. Kouchner did say, "We acted badly, but not only France, the world did not react well. The time for asking for forgiveness has not come yet.”

Still, the rapprochement signals a desire on both sides to move beyond the bitter past.

"It's a good political move for both sides, because they are doing it on a new basis of pragmatism," says Guillaume Lacaille, an expert on the Great Lakes region for the International Crisis Group in Nairobi, Kenya, says of further Franco-Rwandan bonhomie. "The timing is important. The report was issued two days after Kouchner visited Kagame, and that is not by accident. Both have made the concrete move to put their differences aside and to move forward.”

A retired Western diplomat living in Kigali mused that, “In an ideal world, France would apologize to Rwanda, put some 20 former senior French officials in the dock, quickly extradite or try some 15-20 Rwandan genocidaires residing in France, and maybe even pay reparations.” However, he adds, “This report is not the end of the story. Like Watergate, if you can’t any longer find evidence of the crime, there is evidence of cover up, and the France has been muddying the waters for 15 years.”

Mr. Lacaille agrees that this new report will not close the door on the mystery of who shot down the plane. Because it was issued by the Kagame government, he says, the report can never have the same level of independent credibility that would have come with an international UN-run investigation, so it should be seen more as a reflection of politics than of justice. "I don't know who shot that plane," Lacaille says. "We are still in doubt on the deed, and to the families of the victims, it's a little bit frustrating."

--- Staff writer Scott Baldauf contributed to this report from Johannesburg, South Africa.