French judges heads to Rwanda to investigate Habyarimana assassination that sparked 1994 genocide
Kigal – Two French judges arrived in Kigali on Saturday with a team to investigate the assassination of Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana in 1994. Rwanda cut off diplomatic ties with France in November 2006 over the investigation, after arrest warrants were issued against nine people close to President Paul Kagame. They have since been restored.
“We are in a new diplomatic environment. Today’s situation allows the mission to go ahead, something that was not possible two or three years ago,” Emmanuel Bidanda, a lawyer of one of the victims, told RFI.
Lawyers for the victims, who are plaintiffs in the inquiry, along with lawyers of three Rwandans close to Kagame who were wanted on international arrest warrants, are accompanying the French team.
Judges Marc Trévidic and Nathalie Poux will spend a week in Rwanda looking into how Habyarimana’s plane was shot down. He was killed, along with Burundi president Cyprien Ntaryamira and others who were on board. The incident sparked the three-month genocide in which 800,000 people, mostly Tutsis, were killed.
France is investigating the assassination because the pilots of the plane were French. The judges will be accompanied by experts in geometry, ballistics, explosives and fires, and hope to determine from where the missiles were shot.
They suspect a commando squad of Rwandan Patriotic Front, the Tutsi rebel group headed by Kagame, who seized power after the genocide, infiltrated the lines of the mainly Hutu Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR).
Rwanda says the attack was carried out by Hutu extremists within the FAR who wanted to eliminate the president in a coup d’état. A Rwandan report, supported by a ballistic survey conducted by British experts, shows the missiles were fired from a big FAR military camp.
At the request of defence authorities, the investigating team will take witness statements as well as copies of the evidence that the copies of the evidence used by Rwanda to draw its conclusions.
“What is important for the serenity of the judge’s work is that there not be any diplomatic consequences,” said Bidanda, who added that the investigation is a new step that will help to “resolve contradictions”.