KIGALI, April 24 – Authorities in the Rwandan capital have forced the closure of the French cultural centre, officials said Wednesday, just weeks after the two nations were in a major diplomatic spat over genocide commemorations.
The French ambassador to Kigali, Michel Flesch, said the land where the centre was located was confiscated by the local council following a long-running dispute over urban planning regulations. He said the centre was forced to shut its doors last week.
The long-strained relations between France and Rwanda took a turn for the worse earlier this month as the country held formal commemorations marking the 20th anniversary of the 1994 genocide, in which at least 800,000 people were murdered.
After Rwandan President Paul Kagame repeated allegations of French complicity in the genocide, France decided not to send a ministerial-level delegation to the commemorations. Rwanda in turn responded by withdrawing the accreditation of the French ambassador.
But the mayor of Kigali, Fidele Ndayisaba, said the issue of the cultural centre had “no link” with the diplomatic dispute, insisting that the land was “not being used rationally” — and therefore did not comply with local planning laws that stipulate constructions must meet a certain surface ratio based on the land they occupy.
“At the end of November 2013, the French embassy received a 90 day notice which ended in February. As the law states, there was a confiscation demand issued in March for non-use of the land,” he explained.
Kigali has seen rapid urban development in recent years and the cultural centre is not the only building to have fallen foul of local building regulations.
Speaking in Paris, a French foreign ministry official played down the closure and said the cultural centre was continuing its activities — mainly the teaching of the French language — at another location in Kigali.
The dispute between the two nations centres on France’s role prior to the genocide as a close ally of the Hutu nationalist regime of Juvenal Habyarimana. The shooting down of his plane over Kigali late on April 6, 1994 was the event that triggered 100 days of meticulously-planned slaughter of the Tutsi minority. READ: Kagame renews charge that France took part in Rwanda genocide.
France is accused of missing or ignoring the warning signs, and of training soldiers and militia who carried out the killings. When the genocide was in full swing, France was also accused of using its diplomatic clout to stall effective action.