Rwandan genocide recalled

SOLEMN commemorations marking the 20th anniversary of Rwanda’s genocide yesterday bore reminders of a festering anger as a major diplomatic row broke out over allegations of France’s complicity in the 1994 massacres.

The French ambassador to Kigali said he had been barred from the commemorations after Paris decided to cancel a ministerial visit in response to the renewed accusations by Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo also told France it had to face up to the difficult truth over its involvement in the murder of 800 000 ethnic Tutsis two decades ago.

Official mourning, which began three months ago with a flame of remembrance touring towns and villages across the small central African nation, culminated yesterday when the torch arrived at the national genocide memorial.

Kagame lit a flame that will burn for 100 days, the length of time it took government soldiers and “Hutu power” militiamen to carry out their plan to wipe out the “Inyenzi” – a term meaning “cockroaches” that was used by Hutu extremists to denigrate and designate the minority Tutsis.

The well-planned and viciously executed genocide began on April 6 1994, shortly after Hutu president Juvenal Habyarimana was killed when his plane was shot down over Kigali.

Roadblocks were set up, with Tutsi men, women and children of all ages butchered with machetes, guns and grenades.

Custodians of the memorial say it contains the bones of a quarter of a million people now carefully stored in vast concrete tombs.

Wreaths were also laid, before ceremonies in Kigali’s football stadium where UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and African leaders attended along with several top diplomats from the US and European nations.

French officials were absent in the wake of Kagame repeating his accusation of French participation in the killings. He said French soldiers – who helped train the Hutu nationalist-controlled Rwandan army prior to 1994, as well as being accused of aiding the killers to escape – were both accomplices and actors in the bloodbath.

France has repeatedly denied any direct involvement in the genocide.

The UN chief has said the commemorations were a chance to remind the world to do all it could to ensure such crimes never happened again. The UN was also heavily criticised in 1994 for not doing more to stop the killings.

“The scale of the brutality in Rwanda still shocks: an average of 10 000 deaths per day, day after day, for three months,” Ban said.

US President Barack Obama also paid tribute to the victims, saying the genocide shook the conscience of the world.

“The horrific events of those 100 days -- when friend turned against friend, and neighbour against neighbour – compel us to resist our worst instincts, just as the courage of those who risked their lives to save others reminds us of our obligations to our fellow man,” Obama said.

The official “Kwibuka” mourning – meaning “remember” in Kinyarwanda -- ends on July 4, Rwanda’s liberation day. – AFP