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French judge says Rwandan leader should face court over genocide

The Rwandan government reacted with stupefaction yesterday to a call by a French judge for the country's president, Paul Kagame, to face an international tribunal for his alleged role in triggering the 1994 genocide.

"France is trying to turn the blame around to salve its own very damaged conscience over the genocide and the role of high-ranking French officers in it," said the Rwandan Foreign Affairs minister, Charles Murigande.

Legal experts were puzzled by the move, late on Monday evening by the high-profile French judge Jean-Louis Bruguière, to call for arrest warrants to be issued against nine Rwandan officials, including Rwanda's current chief of staff Brig-Gen James Kabarebe, army chief of staff Charles Kayonga, ambassador to India, Faustin Nyamwasa-Kayumba, RPF MP Samuel Kanyamera and director-general of state protocol, Rose Kabuye.

Mr Bruguière also said he would write to the United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan to ask that President Kagame be brought before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) which tries genocide suspects in Arusha, Tanzania. French law prevents him from attempting to prosecute Mr Kagame because he is a serving head of state.

ICTR's acting deputy registrar Everard O'Donnell said: "Judge Bruguière can write to Santa Claus if he likes. The ICTR is independent. Its prosecutor does not take instruction from Kofi Annan or anyone else."

Mr Bruguière's move is the latest in the diplomatic fireworks between France and the Great Lakes country where as many as 800,000 people - mainly Tutsis - were killed in 1994. The 100-day genocide began after a French-piloted Falcon jet carrying then president Juvénal Habyarimana, a Hutu, was shot down over the capital, Kigali.

Mr Bruguière - who is investigating the downing of the jet at the request of its crew's family and Mr Habyarimana's widow, Agathe - claims Mr Kagame, who was then leader of the rebel Rwanda Patriotic Front, ordered the aircraft to be shot down and obtained missiles from Uganda.