|French role in Rwanda bloodbath continues to stir emotions
As France digs in its heels and maintains it has nothing to apologize for when it comes to the Rwandan genocide, ordinary victims and survivors are unimpressed: the French authorities, they say, should say sorry, AFP reports.
(Pictured, French soldiers in Rwanda).
Lingering bitterness over the tortured relations between the two countries came to the fore again this week amid commemorations marking the 20th anniversary of the murder of 800,000 people, most of them ethnic Tutsis, at the hands of Hutu extremists.
Feeling insulted by renewed allegations from Rwandan President Paul Kagame of French complicity, France's Justice Minister Christiane Taubira cancelled her trip to Kigali for a memorial ceremony. Rwanda told France's ambassador to Kigali to stay at home.
“It is 20 years, and still this goes on. When will they simply say sorry?'' said Peter, a young man in his 20s.
“This time is about those who died, not a political game of football. Their leaders are behaving like children angry at being told off, when it is about facing up to facts of history of genocide.''
The dispute centers on France's role before the genocide as a close ally of the Hutu nationalist regime of Juvenal Habyarimana. The shooting down of his plane over Kigali late on April 6, 1994 was the event that triggered 100 days of meticulously-planned slaughter.
France is accused of missing or ignoring the warning signs, and of training soldiers and militia who carried out the killings. When the genocide was in full swing, France was accused of using its diplomatic clout to stall effective action.
When it did finally send in troops – in Operation Turquoise – it was accused of only doing so to counter the advance of Kagame's Tutsi rebels and allow the perpetrators to escape to neighboring Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo.
France, however, maintains its deployment stopped the killings and saved thousands of lives.
And French officials insist that any guilt for failing to prevent the genocide is shared by the entire international community, and in turn accuse Kagame of only raising the issue to distract attention from what they say is his own poor human rights record.
But Eugene Mussolini, a survivor of the genocide in his 30s, signalled that Kagame's criticisms reflected the view held by many.
France “was among the countries that were supporting militia and the former government... they had all the power and all the capacity to stop the militia and they didn't do anything,'' he said.
“Maybe there is a bit of arrogance on the part of France,'' added Jean-Claude Nkulikiyimfura, a genocide survivor in this 30s. “It is the death of a million people we are talking about.''
Bernard, 35, who fled as a teenager to Uganda during the genocide, voiced regret that the latest diplomatic spat went against forgiveness and reconciliation.
“We've learnt to forgive each other, to live as Rwandans alongside those who carried out attacks,'' he said.
“It was not this government in France now, so why not move on? As a country, Rwandans have forgiven each other to live alongside each other.''
Francoise Karangwa, a 25-year-old who has just finished studying accountancy, also backed the Rwandan government line that French authorities needed to swallow their pride and apologize.
“Rwandans forgive even if you cannot forget,'' Karangwa said, who lost several family members in 1994. “We cannot force them to apologize, but it would be a courageous act.''