PARIS - French authorities have dropped a sensitive investigation into the plane crash that sparked Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, citing lack of sufficient evidence.
Several people close to Rwanda’s current president, Paul Kagame, had been under investigation. Rwanda’s government denounced the probe as an attempt to deflect responsibility from France’s suspected role in the genocide, and welcomed the decision to end it.
A French judicial official said Wednesday that investigating judges decided last week to close the case, based on a request from prosecutors. The official provided no details about the decision.
The April 6, 1994 plane crash killed Rwanda’s then-President Juvenal Habyarimana, an ethnic Hutu. Militants from the Hutu majority blamed minority Tutsis for the death, sparking the ethnic slaughter of some 800,000 people.
France was Rwanda’s longtime benefactor, and the plane had a French crew. The cause of the crash has long been a contentious issue.
The Rwandan government says the plane was shot down by Hutu extremists who opposed the government’s efforts to forge a peace deal with Tutsi-led rebels. Kagame led the Tutsi rebels at the time.
An initial French investigation completed in 2012 found that the missile came from a Rwandan military camp. But France re-opened the probe after a prominent Rwandan exile said he had evidence that Kagame ordered the plane shot down, which Kagame denies.
The Rwandan government praised the definitive end of what it called a “politically motivated investigation.”
“We welcome this decision which brings to an end a brazen attempt over two decades to obstruct justice for the genocide against the Tutsi, and prevent accountability for both the perpetrators and their wilful accomplices,” Foreign Minister Dr. Richard Sezibera said in a statement.
Critics say France was too supportive of Rwanda’s Hutu-led government whose supporters carried out the genocide, and that France turned a blind eye to the killings for too long. Rwanda’s government has named 22 senior French military officers accused of helping plan and carry out the genocide through support for the Rwandan army.
France denies complicity, but has launched several investigations in recent years into the genocide in an effort to come to terms with its role. They notably involve Rwandans who fled to France after the killings but also some French figures.