Rwandan Genocide: The French Disconnection
By Tom Heaton, 1 March 1999
Kigali - During and after the genocide unleashed in Rwanda during April 1994, France was accused of having performed a facilitatory role in this horrendous crime, which caused the deaths of at least 800,000 people. The French government maintained a studious silence in the face of these allegations.
It was not until March last year that it decided to appoint a parliamentary committee to investigate them. The committee's report, published last December 15, concluded that France had in no way been involved in the massacre.
The UN had accurate information about the impending massacre four months before it began.
It is also highly likely that the French government shared this knowledge by virtue of its close relations with the Hutu-dominated Rwandan government. Regardless of this, however, there was a very good reason at the time for France to extend maximal support to that government, because by then the rebel Rwandan Patriotic Army, RPA, had made deep inroads into the country and were holding the capital, Kigali, under threat.
From the beginning of the RPA invasion during October 1990, France began a huge airlift of arms, ammunition and communications equipment into Rwanda. For more than three years, France helped Rwanda to keep the RPA at bay.
Then, much to the dismay of France, President Juvenal Habyarimana was killed when his aircraft was shot down by unknown persons as it was preparing to land at Kigali airport.
This event sparked off the genocide.
But France was less concerned over the blood flowing in the streets of Kigali than preserving its strategic interests and the safety of the persons who served them. Its first response was to use the 300 paratroopers it had stationed in Kigali to seize control of the airport, and its second to fly to safety in Paris on one of its military aircraft, Agathe Kanziga, the widow of Habyarimana, and her close relatives.
Agathe Kanziga and her group were fully involved in the genocide, yet France is now telling the world that its government was unaware of the plan.
How likely is this to be true?
It is noteworthy in this respect that five months after the RPA invasion began, Lt-Col Chollet, the commander of France's troops in Rwanda, was appointed adviser to Habyarimana. The French Foreign Ministry denied the report, first carried by La Libre Belgique during February 1991, but other sources in Paris insisted it was correct.
They drew attention to the well-known fact that President Francois Mitterrand's son, Jean-Christophe (then nick-named in Rwanda as "Papa m'a dit" or "Daddy told me so"), was a close friend of Habyarimana and acted as a contact between him and his father. The sources maintained that Jean-Christophe was behind the appointment of Lt. Col. Chollet.
What is certain is that an intimate personal relationship existed between the Habyarimana and Miterrand families. That is impinged upon official relations is illustrated by the fact that the parliamentary report frankly admits that France found itself trapped by its pro-Hutu strategy.
Given this admission, is it credible that France remained unaware of the main component of that strategy - the genocide plan - and was therefore innocent of involvement
During the month following Habyarimana's death, 200,000 Rwanda's were massacred.
Africa Confidential reported that the presidential guards, who were in possession of lists of targeted individuals, initiated the killings. The existence of such list "had been publicly known for months." What was also known was that interahamwe militias were being trained at military camps, one near Gisenyi in the northwest and another near Kigali.
This was announced publicly early in February 1994 by Felician Gatabazi, the public works minister in the transitional government headed by Habyarimana: he was assassinated two weeks later. If matters such us these were known to the public in Rwanda, can France now credibly claim that it was unaware of them
By June 1994 the killer squads were still destroying thousands of lives under the nose of the 270 UN troops left in the country, the bulk of those forces having been withdrawn earlier.
Meanwhile the RPA had taken control of Kigali. It was at that point that the French army launched Operation Turquoise, which was backed by a UN Security Council resolution, to establish a safe haven in Cyangugu in the west on the border with Zaire -now Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
By doing so, France enabled the pool of refugees, which had formed the fall of Kigali to turn into a river flowing into Zaire.
The 1.2m refugees included the defeated government and its army and militias. The French troops made no attempt to disarm them or to arrest any of those to have been involved in the genocide.
Then came the disconnection of France from Rwanda. Operation Turquoise ended in September 1994 and all the French troops that participated in it were recalled.
But it was not the final disconnection: that came in summer of 1996 when the late President Mobutu Sese Seko ordered his army to attack the ethnic Tutsi Banyamulenge, who had been living in eastern Zaire for 200 years. His army suffered a devastating defeat, after which the Banyamulenge, now allied with Zairean rebels, attacked and dispersed in disarray, the former Rwandan army and the Interahamwe militias.
About a million of the refugees immediately marched home, and with them departed the last hope France may have been entertaining of restoring to power the overthrown and discredited Francophone Hutu government. Today, France seeks to sanitize its role in the Rwandan genocide in order to distance itself from those painful events and also from their consequences as witnessed by the fighting taking place in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the soldiers and militias rescued by Operation Turquoise are now participating on the side of President Laurant-Desire Kabila.