Rwandan President Paul Kagame says his country hopes to join the Commonwealth later this year, underlining a bitter rift with France.

Mr. Kagame told the British newspaper The Times that he sees cultural, economic and political benefits to joining the 53-member grouping of mostly former British colonies. Mr. Kagame said he has been invited to attend the next Commonwealth summit in Uganda, in November, and hopes his country's bid to join the group will be approved at that time.

Rwanda, a French-speaking country and a former Belgian colony, had close ties with France for many years after independence in the 1960s. However, Mr. Kagame characterized Rwanda's entire experience with France as negative.

Rwanda severed ties with France in November after a French judge called for Mr. Kagame to stand trial over the 1994 killing of former Rwandan leader Juvenal Habyarimana..

The shooting down of a plane carrying the then Hutu president is considered to have sparked Rwanda's genocide.

Over a 100-day period, ethnic Hutu extremists killed as many as 800,000 Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus.

Mr. Kagame has denied any role in the shooting down of the plane. He told The Times that France is trying to divert attention from what he called that country's "prior support for the genocidal regime." France has repeatedly denied having a role in the genocide.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.