News / Africa

Rwanda, France Try to Mend Ties Haunted By Painful Past

French President Nicolas Sarkozy made the first visit to Rwanda by a French head of state since the 1994 genocide.  The president admitted mistakes were made by France and the international community, but stopped short of directly apologizing for his nation's conduct surrounding the bloody events.  France hopes to turn a new page in relations with Rwanda remain overshadowed by a troubled past.

Last year France and Rwanda officially restored diplomatic ties, three years after Rwandan President Paul Kagame abruptly ordered the French ambassador out of his country.

Relations between the two nations had been tense for years, but charges issued against nine of his aides by a French judge during a genocide inquiry in 2006 were apparently the final straw for the Rwandan leader.  Rwanda's government has long-accused France of giving friendly support to the ethnic Hutu militias that led the bloody extermination campaign nearly 16 years ago, and of offering safe harbor to "genocidaires" ever since.

The bitterness within the leadership of this former French-speaking Belgian colony against France has run so deep that Rwanda has switched its official language to English, even taking the unorthodox step of joining the Commonwealth, despite the fact it never fell under British rule.

But both sides appear willing to begin repairing the battered ties.  A day before announcing President Nicolas Sarkozy's trip to Rwanda, French authorities arrested a Rwandan doctor residing and working in France.  He has long been named as a suspected genocide perpetrator.

Rwanda re-opened its embassy in Paris on Monday.

But the old wounds, are deeply cut and have been left festering for years.

The head of an umbrella group representing genocide survivors, Theodore Simburudari, is demanding an apology from France for its alleged role in arming the radical Hutu militias.

He says that multiple reports have evidenced French support to the genocide perpetrators, and he says he wants France to publicly admit it was involved in the massacre of Rwandan Tutsis.

But an outright apology does not appear forthcoming from France, which has always denied direct links to the slaughter.  The French have indicated that their new policy towards Rwanda will be attempting to toe a thin line - acknowledging previous mistakes, but shying away from any dramatic apologies.

In previewing President Sarkozy's upcoming visit, French Ambassador to Rwanda Laurent Contini cautioned Rwandans his leader has made it clear that he is not interested in dwelling on previous controversial French actions.

"My president when he came into power was very clear about the past.  He will not be apologizing, whatever the past is," said Contini.

He said that saying "sorry" was not something that was discussed as a requirement for the diplomatic rapprochement.

"When we negotiated the restoration of diplomatic relations with Rwanda, this line was very clearly defined.  We have this understanding that our restoration is not based on apologies and repentance.  So then now it is open to my leadership to go further to this line," Contini explained.

Advocacy groups have long maintained that a number of genocide offenders had taken refuge in France.  AFP reports that France is now investigating 12 cases of Rwandan suspects residing in its territory, but that only three have been charged.

President Sarkozy is also reportedly expected to form a new panel to look into France's role in the 1994 bloodshed.  A previous parliamentary commission 12 years ago had absolved the French government of responsibility in the mass killings.

In the incident that sparked the 2006 dispute, President Kagame's nine aides were charged for the 1994 death of Rwanda's then-leader, Juvenal Habyarimana.  The Rwandan president's plane was shot down, an event used by the radical Hutu to launch the ethnic massacre.  Mr. Kagame, who led the Tutsi-rebel force credited with ending the genocide, was accused by the judge of ordering the assassination.

After the charges, the Rwandan government commissioned a probe into the assassination attack.  Its findings, considered the most in-depth look yet into the incident, were reported late last year, and accused President Habyarimana's own inner circle of plotting his demise.  The Hutu leader was returning from a peace summit in which he had reached a deal with Kagame's rebel army.

About 800,000 people, mostly Tutsi, were killed in the 100 days following the assassination.

You May Like

UN Ambassador Power Highlights Plight of Women Prisoners

She launches the 'Free the 20' campaign, aimed at profiling women being deprived of their freedom around the world More

Satellite Launch Sparks Spectacular Light Show

A slight delay in a satellite launch lit up the Florida sky early this morning More

Fleeing IS Killings in Syria, Family Reaches Bavaria

Exhausted, scared and under-nourished, Khalil and Maha's tale mirrors those of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries who have left their homes in the hopes of finding a better life More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs