Twenty years after the Rwandan genocide, the country’s President Paul Kagame used a moving and sometimes chilling ceremony of national reconciliation in Kigali on Monday to renew his accusations that France was complicit in the massacre of 800,000 people.
Despite a warming of relations with Paris in recent years, Mr Kagame has given two outspoken interviews in recent days to described the "direct role" that France had played "before, during and after" the mass slaughter of Tutsis and moderate Hutus by radical Hutu militia in April, May and June 1994.
In his speech, Mr Kagame indirectly repeated the accusations, generating cheering from 30,000 people in a sports stadium in Kigali. "No country is powerful enough to change facts, even if it thinks that it is," President Kagame said in English. Switching to French, he added: "Après tout, les faits sont têtus" - "facts are stubborn, after all".
His play on the two languages was a calculated reminder of the French reasons for supporting and arming an oppressive Hutu regime in Kigali in the years leading up to the genocide. Paris regarded the Tutu rebels over the border in Uganda, led by English-speakers including Mr Kagame, as an American-sponsored threat to French geopolitical influence in Francophone Africa.
A parliamentary inquiry in France in the late 1990s found that the then French government had behaved stupidly in supporting the extremist Hutu regime and had - like the rest of the world - failed to take action to stop the slaughter. It rejected suggestions that French troops present in Rwanda had trained the genocidal militia or taken part in the killing themselves.
A deep chill between Paris and Mr Kigali was ended by former President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2008. To the astonishment of the French government, Mr Kagame has revived his previous accusations of French, and Belgian, complicity in the genocide in the days running up to the 20th anniversary. On Saturday, Paris cancelled the planned visit of its justice minister, Christiane Taubira, to Monday's ceremony. This followed Mr Kagame's comments in a magazine interview in which he spoke of a "direct" French role "before, during and after" the killings. In retaliation, the Rwandan government yesterday banned the French ambassador from the ceremony.
At the main ceremony, a survivor recounted the machete and gun attacks by Hutu militia and soldiers which had destroyed whole Tutsi communities. As he did so, other survivors uttered chilling screams and groans of recollection and grief. Some had to be carried from the stadium.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon told the crowd that the international community had learned a bitter lesson by failing to intervene. "We must not be left to utter the words 'never again', again and again," he said. "We could have done much more. We should have done much more."
Officials in Paris are at a loss to explain Mr Kagame's decision to revive his old accusations of French complicity. They point out that the French justice system is now pursuing cases of alleged Hutu genocidal ringleaders living in France.
The first of these cases led to a 20-year jail sentence for a former Rwandan intelligence chief. But Mr Kagame has said his country had no reasons to be grateful for "one successful prosecution in 20 years".
Édouard Balladur, French prime minister in 1994, dismissed the renewed attacks and accused Mr Kagame of seeking to distract from allegations of oppressive behaviour by his own government.Reuse content