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Peace before truth

by Claudia Isabel Rittel
A Rwandan inquiry has come to new conclusions about the assassination of former President Juvénal Habyarimana. Its findings seem to mark the dawn of a new era in relations between Rwanda and France, but doubts linger on in Rwanda about what the historical truth is.

According to a Rwandan expert group, the plane in which former Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana died – the incident triggered the mass slaughter of Tutsis in 1994 – was not shot down by Tutsi rebels. To the contrary, the report says, the country’s Hutu leader was assassinated by extremist fellow-Hutus who disagreed with his policies. The report is based on the testimony of more than 500 witnesses as well as the results of a ballistic analysis. Genocide began immediately after Habyarimana was murdered on 6 April 1994 and carried on until July, leaving at least 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus dead.

Paul Kagame, Rwanda’s president, who commissioned the recent inquiry, insists that the inquiry was independent. He is, however, certainly anything but non-partisan himself. For one thing, he was the Tutsi rebels' leader in 1994; for another, a French investigation blamed him of being personally involved in the assassination of Habyarimana. In 2006, Kagame discontinued diplomatic relations with France when French judges ­issued a warrant for his arrest. Then, in August 2008, an inquiry Kagame had commissioned to examine witness testimony concluded that France was partially responsible for the genocide. France was accused of assisting the preparations, training Hutu soldiers, supplying weapons and even actively taking part in the killing.

In the light of the present report, diplomatic tensions between France and Rwanda seem to be easing: French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner made a trip to Rwanda in January and President Nicolas Sarkozy is scheduled to fly there soon. Both governments seem eager to stop the blame game and come to terms again. But while Kagame’s officials stress the validity of the most recent inquiry, some doubts linger on. “I don't know whether it is true or not,” says a Rwandan who prefers not to be identified in print. “The emphasis is not on the search for truth but on the search for reconciliation – although it really ought to be the other way around.” (cir)