PARIS, Sept 11 – Rwandan President Paul Kagame arrives in France Sunday on a landmark visit looking to rebuild relations damaged by accusations of France’s complicity in the 1994 genocide in the African nation.
About 800,000 Rwandans, mostly members of Kagame’s Tutsi ethnic group, were slaughtered by Hutu militias. Some in Rwanda accused French forces of having supported the genocidal regime and helped its leaders escape justice.
French officials have furiously denied this, insisting their forces had tried to protect civilians, but 17 years later the wounds are still too raw for some to forget what they see as a slur on their honour.
During a visit to Kigali last year, Sarkozy acknowledged “a form of blindness” in Paris for not having “seen the size of the genocidal” Hutu regime in Rwanda at the time, remarks welcomed by Kagame.
But an association representing French soldiers serving as peacekeepers in 1994 has protested furiously at Kagame’s visit and French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe is also unhappy.
In 2008, a Rwandan report concluded France had trained the militias that carried out killings and French troops had taken part in massacres. It accused 13 politicians and 20 officers by name.
French soldiers who participated in the 1994 joint military-humanitarian mission to Rwanda have described the Rwandan leader’s visit as an “insult to the French military who served” in the country.
And Juppe, also foreign minister in 1994 and one of the French officials accused in the Rwandan report, made it clear he had no intention of shaking hands with Kagame until Rwanda withdrew its report.
Some diplomats in Paris have also questioned the appropriateness of the visit, arguing that Kagame’s regime has an increasingly poor record on human rights and democracy.
Two Rwandan opposition parties, the FDU and the RNC, have accused Paris of “double standards”, comparing France’s welcome for Kagame with its campaign to topple Libya’s Moamer Kadhafi, arguing that the two leaders are cut from the same cloth.
Supporters of the two parties, neither of which is recognised by Rwanda, are planning to hold a protest rally when Kagame meets French business leaders on Tuesday.
The FDU’s leader Victoire Ingabire has been on trial since Monday in a Kigali court on terrorism charges.
Kigali is hoping the visit will encourage greater French investment in the energy, infrastructure and tourism sectors in his nation.
A statement from the French president’s office said talks between the two leaders would focus on “developing the partnership between the our countries and deepening our cooperation”.
Kagame and Sarkozy would also discuss regional and international issues, it added.
Kagame is set to visit members the Rwandan community after his arrival on Sunday afternoon and is due to have lunch with Sarkozy on Monday.