Rwanda's Kagame pays 'reconciliation visit' to France

Paul Kagame in Paris - 11 September 2011 Paul Kagame said it was time for Rwanda and France to move ahead in their relations

Rwandan President Paul Kagame has started his first visit to France since his country's 1994 genocide, in a bid to bridge the countries' deep divides.

Rwanda has accused the French military of contributing to the massacre of 800,000 mainly ethnic Tutsis by the Hutu regime and its supporters.

Diplomatic ties were broken off in 2006 after a French judge accused Mr Kagame, then leading a Tutsi rebel group, for the act which sparked the genocide.

Both sides have denied the charges.

The reconciliation process started last year when French President Nicolas Sarkozy visited Rwanda.

During that visit, Mr Sarkozy acknowledged that France had made "mistakes" during the genocide - but he stopped short of an apology.

He said "a sort of blindness" had prevented France from seeing "the genocidal aspect of the [Hutu] government" of the time, with which it had close ties, including military support.

Language battle

Arriving in Paris, Mr Kagame attended a gathering of Europe's Rwandan diaspora.

"We are working together to see how we can leave history behind, to move ahead," Mr Kagame said.

France-Rwanda: Timeline of Trouble

  • 6 April 1994: President Juvenal Habyarimana's plane shot down, genocide starts
  • 23 June 1994: French troops sent to Rwanda under "Operation Turquoise" to provide safe havens - Paul Kagame said they protected genocidal militias
  • July 1994: Kagame's RPF enters Kigali, takes power
  • 2006: French judge accuses Kagame and allies of shooting down Habyarimana's plane, Rwanda cuts diplomatic ties
  • 2008: English replaces French as language of schooling
  • 2009: Rwanda joins Commonwealth, restores diplomatic ties with France
  • 2010: Nicolas Sarkozy visits Rwanda
  • 2011: Kagame visits Paris

He said there were people opposed to an improvement in French-Rwandan relations.

Many in the French army are furious about Rwanda's claim that French soldiers encouraged or even took part in the genocide, says the BBC's Hugh Schofield in Paris.

France's Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, who occupied the same position in 1994, is absent from Paris on a visit to the Pacific Rim.

The genocide began immediately after a plane carrying Rwanda's then President Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, was shot down on 6 April 1994.

A French judge accused Mr Kagame and his allies of killing the president - an allegation he dismissed as "ridiculous".

Correspondents say his legitimacy as Rwanda's leader comes from his ousting of the genocidal regime and so the suggestion that his actions may have sparked it are particularly damaging.

He insists that extremist Hutus shot down the plane and blamed his then rebels, to provide a pretext to carry out the pre-meditated slaughter.

French has been Rwanda's official language since 1923, when Belgium took control. However, Mr Kagame and many of his allies grew up in English-speaking Uganda and in 2008, English was made the language of instruction in schools.

A year later, Rwanda joined the Commonwealth grouping of mainly former British colonies.

But analysts say it is now in the interests of both countries to rebuild their relationship.

French influence in Africa's Great Lakes region has diminished and President Kagame is under increasing pressure at home and abroad over allegations of human rights abuses.

On Monday, the two presidents are to lunch at the Elysee Palace to "develop a partnership between our two countries and deepen our co-operation" - as an adviser to Mr Sarkozy said.

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