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Rwanda Says France Protecting Image by Resisting Genocide Courts

Rwanda's foreign minister says France is refusing to try former officials on charges that they may have been complicit in the 1994 genocide because it does not want them to be associated with such a crime. Nick Wadhams reports from our East Africa bureau in Nairobi.

Foreign Minister Charles Murigande tells VOA France played a role in the massacre of Rwandan Tutsis in 1994. He insists France is resisting calls to bring former officials to trial because doing so would harm its image.

"You know, genocide is the worst crime that can be committed on this Earth and there is no person and no country which would associate itself with genocide," he said. "I can understand France trying to deny involvement whatsoever in the genocide. All those criminals that are being tried for genocide in all these international courts, every one of them denies participation because it is something that is horrible, nobody would willingly accept responsibility."

The foreign minister's remarks come three days after the French newspaper Le Monde reported that French officials had clear warnings in the early 1990s of a possible slaughter by ethnic Hutus of the minority Tutsis. The newspaper says French officials backed the Hutu-led government nonetheless.

On Tuesday, Rwanda's justice minister said France should prosecute politicians who ignored warnings about the genocide.

France's Foreign Ministry refused comment on Murigande's remarks, but France has long denied any complicity in the genocide.

Nearly 800,000 people are believed to have been killed in 100 days of violence by Hutu extremists, who slaughtered members of the Tutsi minority and also moderate Hutus who did not support the extremists.

Rwanda also accuses France of refusing to cooperate with a commission of inquiry into the 1994 massacre. Murigande says he believes that France will eventually have to try former officials for their involvement.

"If France wants to hold to that image of a democratic and a law abiding country, it will eventually have to hold accountable those who played such a horrible role," he said.

Last year, Rwanda broke off diplomatic relations with France after a French judge accused Rwandan President Paul Kagame of ordering the assassination of his Hutu predecessor, Juvenal Habyarimana. The genocide began after Hayarimana's plane was shot down outside the Rwandan capital Kigali.

President Kagame, a Tutsi, led the rebel group that eventually brought the genocide to an end.