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Rwanda Orders Closure of French Embassy in Kigali


Rwanda broke off diplomatic ties with France on Friday in protest at a French judge's call for President Paul Kagame to stand trial over the killing of a former leader, the event which unleashed the country's genocide. For VOA, Cathy Majtenyi reports from Nairobi.

Nine presidential aides stand accused of murder and being an accessory to murder in the April 1994 downing of an airplane carrying the then-Hutu president of Rwanda and the president of Burundi.

That incident was to spark 100 days of bloodshed in which Hutu extremists killed an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

Rwanda has vehemently denied the allegations. More than 20,000 Rwandans took to the streets in the capital Kigali Thursday to protest the warrants.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Charles Murigande says France was "deeply involved" in the genocide, and it is guilt and a desire for power that is behind the warrants.

"The aim of France is to overthrow our government and bring back to power those who committed genocide because they were their allies," he said.

France has repeatedly denied having a role in the genocide.

Meanwhile, French Judge Bruguiere maintains that only the Rwandan Patriotic Front, or RPF, headed by then General Kagame, had missiles capable of shooting down the airplane to wrest power from the government in office.

At the U.N.'s Tanzanian-based International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda earlier this week, the Association of Defense Lawyers (Association des Avocats de la Defence, or ADAD) released a statement backing the French judge's report.

According to the association, during peace talks leading up to the April 6 downing of the plane, the Tutsi RPF committed many atrocities as it built up its power base.

ADAD President Peter Erlinder explains.

"During the discussions of peace and the Arusha Accords, Paul Kagame was building up his military for the final offensive, and there's much evidence of huge amounts of material being brought into Rwanda during the time that peace was supposed to be in the offing," he said. "They [RPF] were losing politically. They had military dominance, but they were politically weaker. So by the first of April Paul Kagame ordered the assassination and final assault."

The association has called on the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda to begin war crimes proceedings against Kagame himself.