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Accusations over Rwanda plane crash

By Chris Simpson in Kigali, BBC News Online, Friday, 3 March, 2000, 10:33 GMT

The Rwandan Government has dismissed press speculation that the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) shot down President Juvenal Habyarimana's plane in April 1994 as "baseless propaganda".

In a lengthy article, published on 1 March, the Canadian daily, The National Post, said it had obtained a confidential United Nations report which provided detailed testimony from RPF informants on their own involvement in the attack on the plane.

The RFP was a predominantly Tutsi rebel movement, whose long guerrilla campaign against the then Hutu-dominated government had won it the promise of a stake in a future government, and the return of hundreds of thousands of Tutsi refugees.

According to The National Post, the report had been commissioned by former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros Ghali in April 1994, but was suppressed three years later.

The National Post says the UN investigators interviewed three unidentified members of an "elite covert strike team", who confirmed the attack had been sanctioned by RPF leader and current Rwandan Vice-President Paul Kagame.

The same witnesses reportedly alleged that an unnamed foreign government had also been involved in the assassination, while providing details of the surface-to-air missiles used in the attack and the locations of different sites from where the rockets were fired.


A government spokesman in Kigali told the BBC that the whole story was false and was "designed to justify the 1994 genocide against the Rwandan people".

Another government source dismissed the article as being "another attempt to turn North American opinion against us".

There has been no official reaction to the story from UN headquarters in New York, or from the UN Prosecutor's Office in The Hague. But a UN insider suggested the UN report was being given unwarranted prominence, pointing out the document was three years old.

Long debate

The circumstances surrounding the plane incident have been endlessly debated both inside and outside Rwanda over the past six years.

The plane, a four-year-old Falcon 50, was flying into Kigali airport from Arusha in Tanzania when it was hit by two rockets at around 2030 local time.

The passengers included Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana and his Burundian counterpart, Cyprien Ntaryamira, who had both been attending a regional summit in Arusha.

As news broke of President Habyarimana's death, roadblocks went up around Kigali and the mass killing started soon afterwards, with Interahamwe militias and government soldiers playing a prominent role.

The speed at which the genocide started has convinced many observers that Mr Habyarimana was murdered by Hutu hardliners who resented his attempts to broker a settlement with the RPF, and used his death as a pretext to embark on a killing spree planned months in advance.

Hutu exile groups have frequently accused the RPF of a rocket attack on the plane, suggesting the RPF leadership wanted to use the ensuing mayhem to seize power directly, abandoning the power-sharing agreement it had forged with the government.