After almost 16 years of bitter recriminations over France’s role in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, Nicolas Sarkozy became the first French leader since the killings to visit the tiny Central African country.
The sight of a French leader laying a wreath at the main genocide memorial in the capital, Kigali, helps cement closer ties between the two countries after diplomatic relations were restored late last year.
The dominant foreign power in Rwanda prior to the genocide, France’s influence collapsed over accusations that leading French politicians at the time helped arm and train those responsible for the killings.
Just over three years ago, Rwanda broke off diplomatic relations after a French judge indicted nine top Rwandan officials for sparking the genocide by shooting down the plane of then-President Juvenal Habyarimana.
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Standing next to Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Sarkozy admitted that France had made “serious errors” in failing to appreciate the scale of the genocide planning being carried out by its client regime. He stopped short, however, of apologizing over claims of French involvement in the killings.
More important, though, could be a commitment by Sarkozy to deal with genocide suspects living on French soil.
Since 1994. France has been seen as a haven for suspected genocide perpetrators. Rwandan investigators estimate that up to 100 major genocide suspects are living in the country.
While Sarkozy stressed the independence of the French justice system, he underscored France’s determination to track down suspected perpetrators. “We want those responsible for the genocide to be found and punished,” Sarkozy said. “If there are any in France, then justice will decide.”
Tide turning against suspects living in France
The tide seems to be turning against genocide suspects living in France. Over the past few months, four senior French judges have visited Rwanda to investigate 10 cases of such genocide suspects.
Last month, police in the French town of Bordeaux arrested Sosthene Munyemana, a doctor accused of participating in the genocide. Mr. Munyemana, who has been dubbed the “Mengele of Rwanda” by investigators, is accused of torturing and killing his own patients. He denies the charges.
In October, a French judge refused to grant asylum to Agatha Habyarimana, widow of former Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana, who is accused of being one of the key planners of genocide.
Crucial for the future of this troubled region is the potential crackdown on the leadership of the Force Democratique pour le Liberation de Rwanda, or FDLR, a Rwandan rebel army based in neighboring eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The group is made up of a rump of perpetrators who fled Rwanda after the killings.
Since the arrest last year of two top FDLR bosses in Germany, Paris-based Callixte Mbarushimana, has become the de facto head of the group’s influential diaspora leadership. Mr. Mbarushimana is accused of participating in the genocide while working for the United Nations Development Project in Kigali.
Upending the FDLR in Europe would bring peace a step closer in eastern DRC, analysts claim. It would also help go some way to healing the festering wounds left by the genocide.