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.

Rebecca Blackwell/AP/File
United Nations peacekeepers, right, pass near a Rwandan Hutu rebel, left, as they patrol near a UN peacekeeping encampment in the heart of territory held by Rwandan Hutu rebels, the FDLR, near the village of Kimua, eastern Congo, Oct. 2.

Missiles that brought down the Falcon 50 aircraft carrying former Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana days before he was to implement a peace accord – thus triggering a genocide of more than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus – were fired from a base operated by Mr. Habyarimana's own presidential guard, according to the most comprehensive report on the events of April 6, 1994, released Monday by Rwandan President Paul Kagame's Tutsi-dominated government.

The inquiry - ordered by Mr. Kagame's regime in the wake of a disputed 2006 French judicial finding that Kagame's Tutsi rebels actually fired the missiles that sparked the genocide - adds a large weight to scales of justice implicating Hutu supremacists in a conspiracy to foment genocide.

“All the evidence points to the idea that missiles were fired inside or near the Kanombe base … which effectively implicates [Hutu extremist Col. Theoneste] Bagosora,” says Andrew Wallis, British expert and author of “Silent Accomplice," a book on the genocide. “Allegedly, Habyarimana’s wife herself [a known Hutu extremist] knew the attack was coming."

The exhaustive Mutszini report collects new Belgian military testimony, ballistics investigations by British experts, previous UN reports, Western authors and researchers, and some 557 witness testimonies in an effort to take a definitive position on the April 6 assassination that started the genocide.

Hutu political groups based outside Rwanda, where they are free to criticize Kagame's tightly controlled regime, call the report propaganda. In France, the report is sensitive. French relations with Kagame's government are in the process of recovery after French judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere’s conflicting 2006 report took bilateral ties to an all-time low. That report was based on the testimony of four individuals, two of whom have now recanted.

Yet with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner in Rwanda last week – and with French president Nicolas Sarkozy traveling there this month – French leaders appear to be tacitly accepting the new findings. That’s a significant change, given Kagame government claims of extensive French involvement in the training and support of Hutu extremists, including Col. Bagosora, a charge the French have denied. Bagasora has been convicted of genocide in the Tanzania-based UN tribunal on Rwandan war crimes.

A shrouded issue

For years Habyarimana’s assassination has been the most vexing and shrouded issue in assigning responsibility and clarifying history on the onset of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide: If Hutu extremists were culpable, it suggests a coup d’état and conspiracy to commit genocide. But if, as the French have long claimed, Kagame is to blame – Judge Bruguiere’s view – then the genocide was a result of mob anger caused by Kagame.

The crux of the issue has been where the missiles were fired. The Bruguiere report, which removed the finding of Tutsi complicity, says the missiles came from a zone controlled by Kagame’s forces. A United Nations report shortly after the crash found it was at or near Kanombe, held by Hutus.

The “Report of the Investigation into the Causes and Circumstances of and Responsibility for the Attack of 06/04/1994 Against The Falcon 50 Rwandan Presidental Aeroplane Registration Number 9XR-NN,” known as the Mutsinzi report, after the lead investigator Jean Mutsinzi, describes the plane as taken down “by three whites with the help of the presidential guard … from the Kanombe military camp.” But it does not offer further information on the “whites.”

The report’s strength, according to early reads by experts, are in setting a context and motive for claims by the current Rwandan government that Hutu extremists were responsible for the downing of the plane. The Arusha peace accords Habyarimana had nearly implemented would have split the Rwandan military, and placed nearly half the Army under the control of Tutsis at a time when the Hutu extremist movements were gaining terrific strength. High-level Hutu extremists surrounding the moderate Habyarimana were loath to let that happen.

Report lays out narrative and a motive

Rue 89, the French daily news website, says the inquiry “provides new elements to understand the narrative of facts and to correct a misunderstanding.” Philip Gourevitch of The New Yorker, author of “We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda,” argue similarly of a “convincing narrative.”

In the weeks leading up to the plane crash, three key Habyarimana associates openly threatenedt to kill him, Hutu newspapers and radio stations hinted at removing him between April 2 and 8, Belgian military and UN forces were aware of a plot, and even the crew of the Falcon 50 aircraft were frightened, the report relates.

In one finding, Bagosora had arranged for Habyarimana's Army chief of staff, General Nsabimana, a moderate, to be on the plane. When Nsabimana discovered he would be riding with Habyarimana, he got off the plane in fear and did not reboard until Habyarimana got off and ordered him back.

“The decision to have the Army Chief of Staff traveling to Dar es Salaam with the head of state is absolutely abnormal and amounts to a consipiracy of some sort,” the report states.

“[T]he assassination was a coup d’état,” Gourevitch wrote last week. “At the time of his death, Habyarimana was on the brink of implementing the Arusha Accords, a power-sharing peace agreement with the Rwandan Patriotic Front, a rebel army led by Paul Kagame .... But the Hutu Power genocidaires wanted to consolidate their power through their campaign of extermination.”

Mr. Wallis says, “only hours after the plane went down the presidential guards were in the street killing Hutu and Tutsi moderates. They were ready.”

Taking it easy on the French?

The Mutsinzi report does not reach the levels of French complicity assumed by Kagame's government.

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.

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.

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