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Questions Linger Over Responsibility for 1994 Rwandan Genocide - 2004-03-18

France's Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin insisted Thursday that French troops saved hundreds of thousands of lives in Rwanda, during the 1994 genocide. The statement comes as French and Rwandan officials are trading accusations on who was responsible for the genocide.

Who exactly was responsible for the horrific ethnic massacres in which hundreds of thousands of Rwandans died a decade ago?

The question, which has simmered for years in Rwanda, is sparking debate in France as well, after Rwandan President Paul Kagame charged earlier this week that the French government had directly participated in the genocide.

In an interview with Radio France International, Mr. Kagame claimed that not only did French troops train and command the forces that carried out the massacres, they also had a direct hand in the killings.

Mr. Kagame's remarks initially drew a no comment from French authorities, but on Thursday, Foreign Minister de Villepin offered a spirited defense of the actions of French troops in Rwanda. In an interview with the same French radio station, he claimed the French troops saved several hundred thousand lives. Mr. de Villepin called Mr. Kagame's remarks uncalled for, and an untrue version of history.

This is not the first time Mr. Kagame has made such charges against France, but it coincides with a new French report that accuses the Rwandan leader of masterminding the killing of his predecessor, former Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana.

Mr. Habyarimana's plane was shot down in a rocket attack in April, 1994. His death unleashed an ethnic massacre of historic proportions, in which Hutu militants killed between 500,000 and one million minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

The French government, which had supported Mr. Habyarimana's regime, dispatched 2,500 peacekeepers to the country.

Other critics besides Mr. Kagame have accused Paris of doing little to stop the Rwandan killings, and of possibly abetting in the deaths. Belgium has also been accused of doing little to stop the slaughter. Four years ago, the Belgian government issued an official apology for its failure, along with that of other nations. Belgium supplied the bulk of a United Nations peacekeeping force that withdrew after Mr. Habyarimana's killing, and after several Belgian peacekeepers were killed as well.

The report charging President Kagame with responsibility for the plane crash, written by a leading anti-terrorist judge, has not yet been published. But France's major newspaper, Le Monde, published extracts of the 220-page document earlier this month. The report caps a six-year investigation by French officials into the massacre, and it comes just one month before Rwanda will mark the tenth anniversary of the massacres.