French report suggests Kagame and RPF did not kill Rwandan President in 1994

By Keith Somerville

The shooting down on the evening of 6 April 1994 not only killed President Juvenal Habyarimana of Rwanda and his Burundian counterpart, but was the trigger for the Rwandan genocide that killed ujp to 800,000 people.  A new French report suggests that the plane was downed by Hutu militants or their supporters in the army and not by current President Paul Kagame and his RPF forces..

The question of who downed the plane with a surface-to-air missile has always been a controversial one.  Conventional wisdom blamed the Hutu Power militants and their supporters in the Presidential Guard, army and Hutu militias; but Hutu politicians, the French and some highly sceptical experts, like the American Scott Straus, always believed it was Kagame and the RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) who fired the missile.

The responsibility for the killing, while not in any justifying the genocide, has always been a key to understanding how and why the genocide occurred.  Those who says Kagame was responsible then posit the theory that while Hutu extremists had set an agenda of hatred of Tutsis and of Hutu politicians favouring equality rather than Hutu hegemony, it was the killing of Habyarimana that started the genocide and it had not been planned in advance.  They further argue that RPF military gains since the start of the uprising in October 1990 had scared not just Hutu leaders but ordinary Hutus, who feared an RPF victory would lead to Tutsi revenge on Hutus for years of repression.

But this theory rather flew in the face of most of the evidence that the genocide was carefully planned over a long period, that the media (especially the hateful Radio-Television Libre des Mille Collines) had inculcated hatred of the Tutsi and contempt for Hutu moderates, and that a network of Hutu militants was prepared to act – the shooting down of the plane was the signal to act and the pretext for that action.  What evidence there was pointed in this direction.

Counter accusations

The French government had supported Habyarimana’s Hutu supremacist regime and sent troops of Rwanda to provide security around Kigali following the RPF invasion.  They armed and trained the Rwandan army and even gave it some command and control assistance in operations against the RPF.  After the killing of the President and the start of the genocide they did nothing to halt it or to protect civilians, despite having hundreds of troops in the country.  They then set up a safe zone for Hutus as the RPF advanced south – not ending killings of Tutsis in this zone for some time.  They, perhaps out of guilt for their role in the tragedy, accused Kagame of shooting down the plane.

In 2006, a leading French anti-terrorist judge investigated the downing of the plane and said (without conclusive evidence) that Kagame and the RPF were most likely to blame. The report had little scientific or technical evidence and was based particularly on the testimony of former RPF members who had become critics of Kagame.

This soured already bad relations between Kigalai and Paris and was criticized by many experts who believed that the weight of evidence and the speed and organized nature of the genocide suggested a planned murder followed by genocidal attacks on Tutsis using the killing as a justification and as a means to mobilize ordinary Hutus to kill their neighbours.

Now the new report. and the presentation in a French court of its findings thus far, appears to clear Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame of organizing the killing of Juvenal Habyarimana.  A team of experts interviewed six of those accused of responsibility in the 2006 French report and conducted a forensic investigation. It included missiles specialists, air accident experts, a pilot and two surveyors.  They tried to reconstruct the events of the night the plane was shot down.  They were mandated to carry out the tests by a French-established inquiry.  They were intent on establishing the trajectory of the missile which hit the presidential plane to work out from where it was fired.

The BBC reports from Paris that a French court hearing the evidence of this new team concluded that the missile was shot from  more than half a mile away from the plane, which was about to land at Kigali airport.  The area from which it is then likely to have been fired was occupied and regularly patrolled by the elite Presidential Guard, which then took a very active part in the genocide and the killing of moderate Hutu leaders.

The killings, and radio exhortations to rise up against the Tutsi, started within hours of the announcement by Radio Mille Collines of Habyarimana’s death.  The investigating team believe it would have been difficult if not impossible for Kagame or the RPF to have been in an area so closely controlled by elite Hutu forces and so sets out that that it  is much more likely that Habyarimana’s own elite forces or even French troops, who were in the area and supported the government, were responsible for firing the missile.

Not surprisingly, the report has been wlecomed by the Kagame government.  The Foreign Minister,  Louise Mushikiwabo , said, “Today’s findings constitute vindication for Rwanda’s long-held position on the circumstances surrounding events of April 1994.” The Minister added that, “It is now clear to all that the downing of the plane was a coup d’état carried by extremist Hutu elements and their advisers who controlled Kanombe Barracks.”

But Jean-Yves Dupeux, a lawyer for Habyarimana’s children, said the findings did not support this version of events.  According to reuters, he said that “The findings cannot point the finger at the Hutu camp. What the experts are saying is that the shots could not have been fired from Paul Kagame’s camp. That doesn’t mean it is the other side.”  While the investigating team have not directly accused Hutus, the evidence establishes from where the missile was fired and strongly suggests Hutu militants were to blame.

While the findings appear to shift the blame to France’s allies at the time and possibly even to French forces, the Sarkozy government and its foreign ministry will not be displeased by the report.  It clears the way for a continuation of the gradual rapprochement that has been taking place in recent months and which paris is keen to see continue.  The report blaming Kagame was always and obstancle to that improvement in relations.

One could be cynical and say that the new report is diplomatically convenient and therefore suspect.  However, it seems much more thorough than the 2006 and fits the known facts surrounding the killing and the subsequent genocide far better.  What the investigating team now has to work on is who did fire the missile.

By Keith Somerville

The shooting down on the evening of 6 April 1994 not only killed President Juvenal Habyarimana of Rwanda and his Burundian counterpart, but was the trigger for the Rwandan genocide that killed ujp to 800,000 people.  A new French report suggests that the plane was downed by Hutu militants or their supporters in the army and not b y current President Paul Kagame and his RPF forces..

The question of who downed the plane with a surface-to-air missile has always been a controversial one.  Conventional wisdom blamed the Hutu Power militants and their supporters in the Presidential Guard, army and Hutu militias; but Hutu politicians, the French and some highly sceptical experts, like the American Scott Straus, always believed it was Kagame and the RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) who fired the missile.

The responsibility for the killing, while not in any justifying the genocide, has always been a key to understanding how and why the genocide occurred.  Those who says Kagame was responsible then posit the theory that while Hutu extremists had set an agenda of hatred of Tutsis and of Hutu politicians favouring equality rather than Hutu hegemony, it was the killing of Habyarimana that started the genocide and it had not been planned in advance.  They further argue that RPF military gains since the start of the uprising in October 1990 had scared not just Hutu leaders but ordinary Hutus, who feared an RPF victory would lead to Tutsi revenge on Hutus for years of repression.

But this theory rather flew in the face of most of the evidence that the genocide was carefully planned over a long period, that the media (especially the hateful Radio-Television Libre des Mille Collines) had inculcated hatred of the Tutsi and contempt for Hutu moderates, and that a network of Hutu militants was prepared to act – the shooting down of the plane was the signal to act and the pretext for that action.  What evidence there was pointed in this direction.

Counter accusations

The French government had supported Habyarimana’s Hutu supremacist regime and sent troops of Rwanda to provide security around Kigali following the RPF invasion.  They armed and trained the Rwandan army and even gave it some command and control assistance in operations against the RPF.  After the killing of the President and the start of the genocide they did nothing to halt it or to protect civilians, despite having hundreds of troops in the country.  They then set up a safe zone for Hutus as the RPF advanced south – not ending killings of Tutsis in this zone for some time.  They, perhaps out of guilt for their role in the tragedy, accused Kagame of shooting down the plane.

In 2006, a leading French anti-terrorist judge investigated the downing of the plane and said (without conclusive evidence) that Kagame and the RPF were most likely to blame. The report had little scientific or technical evidence and was based particularly on the testimony of former RPF members who had become critics of Kagame.

This soured already bad relations between Kigalai and Paris and was criticized by many experts who believed that the weight of evidence and the speed and organized nature of the genocide suggested a planned murder followed by genocidal attacks on Tutsis using the killing as a justification and as a means to mobilize ordinary Hutus to kill their neighbours.

Now the new report. and the presentation in a French court of its findings thus far, appears to clear Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame of organizing the killing of Juvenal Habyarimana.  A team of experts interviewed six of those accused of responsibility in the 2006 French report and conducted a forensic investigation. It included missiles specialists, air accident experts, a pilot and two surveyors.  They tried to reconstruct the events of the night the plane was shot down.  They were mandated to carry out the tests by a French-established inquiry.  They were intent on establishing the trajectory of the missile which hit the presidential plane to work out from where it was fired.

The BBC reports from Paris that a French court hearing the evidence of this new team concluded that the missile was shot from  more than half a mile away from the plane, which was about to land at Kigali airport.  The area from which it is then likely to have been fired was occupied and regularly patrolled by the elite Presidential Guard, which then took a very active part in the genocide and the killing of moderate Hutu leaders.

The killings, and radio exhortations to rise up against the Tutsi, started within hours of the announcement by Radio Mille Collines of Habyarimana’s death.  The investigating team believe it would have been difficult if not impossible for Kagame or the RPF to have been in an area so closely controlled by elite Hutu forces and so sets out that that it  is much more likely that Habyarimana’s own elite forces or even French troops, who were in the area and supported the government, were responsible for firing the missile.

Not surprisingly, the report has been wlecomed by the Kagame government.  The Foreign Minister,  Louise Mushikiwabo , said, “Today’s findings constitute vindication for Rwanda’s long-held position on the circumstances surrounding events of April 1994.”

While it appears to shift the blame to France’s allies at the time and possibly even to French forces, the Sarkozy government and its foreign ministry will not be displeased by the report.  It clears the way for a continuation of the gradual rapprochement that has been taking place in recent months and which paris is keen to see continue.  The report blaming Kagame was always and obstancle to that improvement in relations.

One could be cynical and say that the new report is diplomatically convenient and therefore suspect.  However, it seems much more thorough than the 2006 and fits the known facts surrounding the killing and the subsequent genocide far better.  What the investigating team now has to work on is who did fire the missile.

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One response to “French report suggests Kagame and RPF did not kill Rwandan President in 1994

  1. Pingback: French report suggests Kagame and RPF did not kill Rwandan President in 1994 | Africa – News and Analysis

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