Calls for France to rethink its Africa role
A Rwandan report this week charged Paris with complicity in the 1994 genocide.
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Paris and Kigali have spent years disputing France's role in the 100-day killing spree that became the last full-scale genocide of the 20th century. Some diplomatic sources in Paris say the Kagame report, produced by the Munyo Commission, is an effort at distracting attention from Tutsi crimes that took place after 800,000 Hutu moderates and Tutsis were slaughtered.Skip to next paragraph
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Yet the respected French daily Le Monde this week said the evidence presented in the Rwandan study means the issue can no longer be ignored. It argued that passionate back-and-forth charges between France and Rwanda has hidden the truth for more than a decade, and that "France has to reply to the accusations."
Much of the French complicity cited by the Munyo Commission has been described or published for years by authors, nongovernmental organizations, journalists, and eyewitnesses. Survie, a French NGO, has spent decades following the Rwandan question, investigated the French role exhaustively, and brought out "L'horreur qui nous prende au visage," a 600-page work in French that came out in 2005.
"Until Rwanda in 1992, we tried to work with French political parties to improve French policies in Africa," says Sharon Courtoux, a cofounder of Survie. "But the genocide, which was clear to see even before it happened, changed everything. Rwanda proved to us that there was absolutely no limit to what people were capable of doing, in defending their interests."
The 1998 French parliamentary investigation into its mission in Rwanda found that "mistakes were made," but that France was not knowingly involved in or complicit in the crimes committed by military and paramilitary forces. Yet Survie's study, and the Munyo Commission, presented compelling evidence that France trained government and paramilitary forces.
"All roads to the truth were opened up in the 1998 investigation in France," argues Ms. Courtoux, "but they did not go to the end of the road."
Mr. Wallis, reporter Chris McGreal, and Survie accounts point particularly to the French role in instances like "Operation Turquoise" – an attempt to create a safe haven for the Hutu government and peoples, which took place in the mountains of the south, a place called Bisesero. French soldiers were instructed to go into the zone. When they did, hundreds of Tutsis who were hiding in the hills thought they were coming to save them, according to Wallis. The Tutsis came out of the hills, then the French soldiers were instructed to withdraw – exposing them to the Hutu Interahamwe militia squads (who had allegedly received training from the French). "The Interahamwe just clapped their hands at that point," says Wallis. "These Tutsis had been impossible to route out, and now they were attacked and killed."
Mr. McGreal, who was in Rwanda at the time, spoke to the French colonel who was giving the orders, who identified himself as Didier Thibault. He said that he was taking orders from the "legal organization," the Hutu government.
He was actually Col. Didier Tauzin – a man who had advised the Rwandan Army and, according to a 2007 report by McGreal, had "commanded the French operation that halted the RPF [Tutsi] advance on Kigali a year earlier." That advance had been an effort by the Kagame forces to end the killing in the Hutu-run capital.