Rwanda genocide anniversary marred by row with France
French boycotting 20th anniversary events after being accused of role
Rwanda yesterday told France to face up to the "difficult truth" of its role in the 1994 genocide, amid a major diplomatic spat between the two on the eve of commemorations marking the 20th anniversary of the killings.
The French government has decided to boycott today's events after the Rwandan president, Paul Kagame, again accused France, an ally of the Hutu nationalist government prior to the 1994 killings, of having helped the murder of 800,000 ethnic Tutsis take place.
"For our two countries to really start getting along, we will have to face the truth, the truth is difficult, the truth of being close to anybody who is associated with genocide understandably is a very difficult truth to accept," Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said.
She said it was "impossible for our two countries to move forward if the condition is that Rwanda has to forget its history in order to get along with France," which has repeatedly denied the accusations and insisted that French forces had striven to protect civilians.
"We cannot move on at the expense of the historical truth of the genocide," Mushikiwabo said during an international forum held as part of the 20th anniversary events. She called the French boycott "not justified" and said it was an "overreaction".
Speaking to the weekly Jeune Afrique, Kagame had denounced the "direct role of Belgium and France in the political preparation for the genocide", and said French soldiers who were sent to Rwanda when the killings started were both accomplices and "actors" in the bloodbath.
French foreign ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said he was "surprised" by Kagame's accusations, saying they went against reconciliation efforts between the two countries. He also announced that French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira would be staying away.
Former colonial power Belgium, which unlike France has apologised to Rwanda for failing to prevent the genocide, said that it would still be sending a senior delegation to the event.
Official mourning, which began three months ago with a flame of remembrance touring the small nation from village to village, culminates today when the torch arrives at the national genocide memorial.
President Kagame will light a flame that will burn for 100 days, the length of time that it took government soldiers and Hutu militia to kill hundreds of thousands of people.
The UN was heavily criticised in 1994 for at first failing to acknowledge a genocide was taking place and then failing to stop it.
"The scale of the brutality in Rwanda still shocks: an average of 10,000 deaths per day, day after day, for three months," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement, adding that the impact was still being felt across an "arc of uncertainty in Africa's Great Lakes region - and in the collective conscience of the international community".