Habyarimana assassination: French judge files charges against Kagame close associates
PARIS — A French judge has filed preliminary charges against six people close to President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, including the defense minister, over the 1994 assassination of the country’s then-president in a missile attack on his plane, their lawyers said Thursday.
The six – some ranking Rwandan army officials – were charged last week over the killing of Juvenal Habyarimana, they said. The assassination was widely seen as a trigger to Rwanda’s genocide, in which more than 500,000 people, mostly ethnic Tutsis but also moderate Hutus, were massacred in 100 days of frenzied killing led by radical Hutus.
Investigating Judge Marc Trevidic visited the Burundi capital of Bujumbura from Dec. 5 to Dec. 15, when the six agreed to be placed under investigation, said Bernard Maingain and Lev Forster, who represent all of the men. Trevidic and a team of experts visited Rwanda in September to try to determine the place from where the missile that brought down the presidential plane was fired.
Preliminary charges give officials time to pursue a probe before deciding whether to send suspects for trial or drop the case, and give suspects access to court files.
France is investigating the Rwanda case because the plane’s crew was French and died with Habyarimana, along with then-president of Burundi Cyprien Ntaryamira.
Among the six people in question are ranking Rwandan army officers, including James Kabarebe, who has been Rwanda’s defense minister since April, Charles Kayonga and Jackson Nkurunziza, the attorneys said. The remaining three were identified as Jacob Tumwine, Sam Kaka and Franck Nziza.
In Rwanda, Justice Minister Tharcisse Karugarama welcomed the investigation, which he said would show that the suspects had no involvement in the downing of the plane and expose the “true authors of that unfortunate event.”
“The Rwandan government hopes that this is the first step toward the comprehensive conclusion of this unfortunate case based on political manipulations by people interested in destabilizing Rwanda,” he said.
In November 2006, a now-retired anti-terrorism magistrate, Jean-Louis Bruguiere, delivered nine arrest warrants against people close to Kagame, all suspected of participating to various degrees in the April 6, 1994, attack. The six handed preliminary charges are among the nine, the lawyers said.
The warrants triggered a break in diplomatic ties between France and Rwanda – re-established only in 2009. President Nicolas Sarkozy visited the Rwandan capital of Kigali last February, the first visit to Rwanda by a French leader in 25 years.
“Rwanda’s government believes now that the investigations have been officially opened, the truth will come out for the whole world to know that the officers in question are not responsible at all for shooting down the plane on April 6, 1994,” Rwanda’s justice minister said.
A Rwandan government-commissioned inquiry published in January concluded that Hutu soldiers shot down the Hutu president’s plane because they were opposed to a powersharing deal he backed.
The French probe was opened in 1998 on complaints filed by the families of the three crew members killed. It is one of several investigations into the genocide.