French inquiry into genocide role

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The French parliament is to investigate charges that France, in effect, condoned the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. The National Assembly's Defence Committee has created a mission d'information, or study group, not the full-blown public committee of inquiry which critics of French policy have demanded. Medecins Sans Frontieres, the French humanitarian organisation, rejected the decision as a "diversionary tactic".

Evidence has emerged that France supplied political support and weapons to the former Hutu regime in Rwanda while the massacres of about 800,000 Tutsis in the spring and summer of 1994 were under way. It is also suggested that in the months before the massacres, French military training missions in Rwanda turned a blind eye to evidence that genocide was planned.

The re-examination of France's role follows the publication of a 1,000- page report by a Belgian parliamentary committee and investigative articles in Le Figaro. France has refused to co-operate with the international war crimes investigation of the genocide, ordering military officers not to give evidence.

Recently, there has been a clamour from Green and Communist members of Parliament for a thorough, public committee of inquiry. The chairman of the Defence Committee, former defence minister Paul Quiles, has instead won an agreement that 10 or 12 deputies should form a study group. Critics say such a group will meet in secret and may never make public its findings.

Mr Quiles says that it is "not impossible" the report will be published. He insists it is vital that the group works "in serenity" (ie out of the eye of the media). A full inquiry would be constitutionally impossible, he claims, while the war crimes tribunal is under way. This is a dubious assertion. It might have been true if France, or French personnel, were on trial, but they are not.

The central allegation against France is that the late president Francois Mitterrand became obsessed with the need to prop up the French-speaking Hutu regime in Kigali and defeat the English-speaking Tutsi rebels, long exiled in Uganda. The Hutus were seen as a vital bulwark against the spread of US influence and the English language in South Central Africa. According to Le Figaro, France exported arms to the Hutus in the summer of 1994, even though massacres of Tutsis were proceeding on an epic scale. The newspaper quoted President Mitterrand as saying: "In countries like that, genocide is not so important."