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Rwanda Expresses Regret Over World Leaders' Absence at Genocide Anniversary Ceremonies - 2004-04-05


Government officials in Rwanda are expressing dismay and disappointment that only one head of state from a Western nation has accepted their invitation to attend Wednesday's national ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide.

Rwandan officials say they had issued an open invitation for all world leaders to come to Rwanda as the country remembers April 7, the day the genocide began a decade ago.

But the Rwandan minister for youth, sports and culture, Robert Bayigamba, whose ministry is in charge of organizing commemorative events this week, says the only Western leader who has accepted the invitation is Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt. Rwanda was a Belgian colony for nearly 50 years in the last century.

Mr. Bayigamba says his government has not received explanations from other Western leaders as to why they cannot attend.

"For us, it is disappointing," he said. "Frankly, it is difficult to explain. Maybe they are other important agenda or things to do, and they have chosen not to attend."

Rwandan officials say the absence of so many Western leaders at the national ceremony on Wednesday could reaffirm public suspicions here that powerful nations cared little about the fate of Rwanda in 1994, as ethnic Hutu extremists, spurred on by the government, began the systematic slaughter of the country's ethnic Tutsi minorities and politically moderate Hutus.

The United Nations say some 800,000 people were killed during 100 days of terror and bloodshed. The government says the death toll is closer to one million.

Addressing the opening of a three-day international conference on genocide prevention Sunday in Kigali, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, whose Ugandan-based Tutsi-led rebel army ended the genocide, denounced what he called the convenient failure of the international community to take any action to stop the killings.

"How could a million lives of the Rwandan people be regarded as so insignificant by anyone in terms of strategic or national interest? Do the powerful nations have a hidden agenda? I would hate to believe that this agenda is dictated by racist considerations," said Mr. Kagame.

Last month, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, who was in charge of peacekeeping for the world body in 1994, expressed deep regret for his inaction during the genocide. Mr. Annan is not scheduled to be in Kigali this week. Following weeks of heightened tension between Rwanda and France over each other's role in the genocide, the French government says it is sending its foreign minister to Kigali to represent the country.

A recently leaked French report said Mr. Kagame was responsible for triggering the genocide by ordering the shooting down of the plane carrying then-Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana.

The Rwandan leader has denied the allegations, saying France, which was President Habyarimana's main backer, made up the story to cover up the role French troops played in assisting Hutu extremists commit genocide against Tutsis.

France denies that accusation.