France and Rwanda agree to restore ties

AP News
Posted: Nov 29, 2009 2:37 PM

France and Rwanda have restored diplomatic ties, officials in both countries said Sunday, three years after relations were severed when a Paris judge accused Rwandan President Paul Kagame of ordering his predecessor's assassination.

President Nicolas Sarkozy's chief of staff, Claude Gueant, had discussions with Kagame in Rwanda's capital Sunday. Afterward, Sarkozy and Kagame "decided to re-establish diplomatic relations," a statement from the president's office said. Rwanda's foreign minister confirmed the move.

France and Rwanda have frequently sparred over the 1994 genocide in the African country. But tensions peaked in November 2006, when Rwanda cut off diplomatic relations with France, furious about a French probe into late former Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana's mysterious assassination _ a probe that led to French efforts to arrest officials close to Kagame.

That sensitive case still has not been resolved. France insists that its justice system is completely independent and that the case did not figure in the negotiations leading to restored ties.

Rosemary Museminali, Rwanda's minister of foreign affairs, said officials in her country "look to working out in due course all outstanding issues based on mutual understanding."

Rwanda's genocide began hours after a plane carrying Habyarimana was shot down as it approached the capital, Kigali, on April 6, 1994. About 500,000 people, mostly ethnic Tutsis, were massacred in 100 days of frenzied killing led by radical Hutus. The killing was only stopped after Kagame and the Tutsi army subdued the country.

In 2006, prominent former French investigating judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere _ who probed the downing of Habyarimana's plane because the crew was French _ accused Kagame of ordering the assassination. He also accused nine other ranking Rwandans of plotting the attack.

France grants immunity to acting heads of state, preventing judicial authorities from seeking Kagame. The others were sought via international warrants, and one of them was arrested last year.

In another sensitive issue, Rwanda has maintained that French soldiers in the country in 1994 bore responsibility in the slaughter of minority Tutsis by Hutu extremists.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said the genocide "will remain in our memories," and that France would not forget the victims.

Kouchner _ who visited Rwanda several times during the genocide in his role as a founder of Medecins sans Frontieres, or Doctors without Borders _ said France would reopen its embassy in Rwanda and send diplomats and cultural envoys.

"We are going to try to replace misunderstandings, and the weight of the massacres, with projects between the two countries," he said.


Associated Press writer Felly Kimenyi in Kigali, Rwanda contributed to this report.