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Rwandan President Visits France, Meets Sarkozy

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy, left, welcomes Rwandan's President Paul Kagame, right, at the Elysee Palace. Kagame has warned outside powers against trying to "manage Africa" during a visit to France aimed at soothing tensions over the 1994 genocide

President Paul Kagame met with business leaders in Paris Tuesday as he wrapped up the first visit to France by a Rwandan leader since the country's 1994 genocide. Kagame's trip reflects a sea change in once-bitter bilateral ties, but it was not without controversy.

Lunch with President Nicolas Sarkozy, an enthusiastic welcome by several thousand Rwandan expatriates and talks with France's top business leaders: Rwandan President Paul Kagame appeared to achieve the main goal of his Paris trip - to put French-Rwandan ties back on a positive path.

That was the message Kagame reiterated during an interview on France 24 TV.

"Whatever has gone on in the past and whoever is responsible for it, we are more tuned to the future and that's what we're focused on. We're not focused on the past," Kagame said.

But the past continued to haunt Kagame, including on Tuesday, when a small group of protesters denounced his human rights record as he met with French industrial chiefs in Paris. France and Rwanda have long traded accusations of involvement in events surrounding Rwanda's horrific 1994 genocide that killed up to 800,000 people.

The presidents of France's national assembly and senate declined to meet with Kagame; French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe was on a trip overseas. A number of French generals called Kagame's presence in Paris insulting.

For their part, rights groups expressed disappointment that human rights concerns did not top the presidential talks.

"Unfortunately from what we heard from the first discussions was that human rights was put aside and it's really something that we are concerned about because we think there are strong human rights issues both in France and in Rwanda," said Marcel Sivieude, Africa desk director of the Paris-based French League of Human Rights.

Among other issues, Sivieude says, the group wants France to speed up the judicial process of nearly a dozen Rwandan expatriates implicated in the genocide. And he believes that Sarkozy should have spoken out about human rights violations in Rwanda.

Kagame dismissed criticism about his human rights record during the France 24 interview. "There is nothing terribly wrong that has happened in Rwanda by government or by any official, by institutions, that does not happen anywhere in this world - all these countries, in Europe, or Americas or wherever," he said.

Kagame's visit to Paris is the latest step in normalizing Rwandan-French ties, which analysts say is in the interest of both countries. President Sarkozy visited Rwanda last year. During his trip here, President Kagame urged business leaders to invest in Rwanda. France's government announced interest in supporting Rwanda's energy and banking sectors, among other areas.