France withdraws representative from Rwanda genocide service

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The Independent Online

Irked by accusations that France is partly to blame for the genocide in Rwanda, Paris pulled out its representative at yesterday's commemoration marking the 10th anniversary of the massacres.

"Accusations that are grave and contrary to the truth have been made against France," the Foreign Ministry said.

The brief statement said that Renaud Muselier, No. 2 official at the Foreign Ministry, was leaving Kigali, the Rwandan capital, early.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame pointed a finger of blame at France during his speech, saying the French "consciously trained and armed" government soldiers and militias who carried out the killings of more than half a million people and "knew they were going to perpetrate a genocide." He accused the French of preparing a "strategy to protect the killers and not protect the victims."

Earlier, Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said French troops did all they could to halt Rwanda's genocide. She called accusations that France is partly to blame for the massacres as "totally scandalous".

Survivors of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda gathered on a hillside in the capital yesterday to bury the remains of hundreds of victims recovered from pit-latrines and mass graves.

The symbolic burial marked the 10th anniversary of the slaughter by extremists from the Hutu majority of 800,000 Tutsis and Hutu moderates.Remains held in 20 communal coffins were lowered into tombs by families and genocide survivors, who wanted to give their loved ones a ritual burial years after they were killed by their neighbours under the orders of the extremist Hutu government.

President Paul Kagame, whose rebel force ended the genocide by ousting the extremist government, laid a wreath on the 20th coffin as it was lowered into the grave. He then lit a flame that will burn for 100 days at the central courtyard of the new Kigali National Memorial Centre. A museum on the site will display pictures of the 300,000 children who are estimated to have been killed.

"God forbid, but if a similar situation was to occur anywhere else... when that duty calls to protect people who are caught up in a genocide, please enlist us. We will be available to come and fight to protect those who will be targeted," Mr Kagame said.

Mr Kagame later addressed 65,000 Rwandans at the Amahoro Stadium in Kigali. Cynthia and Sonia Dushime, 11-year-old twins whose family was killed during the genocide, handed a torch to Mr Kagame for the ceremony. "Today is a special day because we get to remember our dead in a special way and bury them," Cynthia said. "We miss our mama and papa, we never got to know them."

In Geneva, the United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, called on the international community to stay alert for warning signs to prevent a repeat of massacres such as that in Rwanda. "We must all acknowledge our responsibility for not having done more to prevent or stop the genocide," Mr Annan told the UN Human Rights Commission. "We cannot afford to wait until the worst has happened, or is already happening, or end up with little more than futile hand-wringing or callous indifference."

Mr Annan said he was gravely concerned about Sudan's conflict-ravaged Darfur region. UN officials and human rights groups say Arab militias, reportedly with government backing, are engaged in "ethnic cleansing" against Africans.

A UN spokeswoman said that Mr Annan did not travel to Rwanda for the memorial ceremonies because he wanted to set out an anti-genocide plan involving the human rights commission, but Western and UN leaders were conspicuous by their absence yesterday.

The failure by the international community to stop the slaughter is a source of embarrassment for Mr Annan, who was head of UN peacekeeping at the time. Mr Annan and the former US President Bill Clinton have apologised for failing to intervene.

Leaders from many African countries have and have flown in for the commemoration, as well as the Belgian Prime Minister, Guy Verhofstadt, the Irish Foreign Minister and a mid-level US official.