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France opens archives on Rwanda genocide

PARIS, France: President Emmanuel Macron opened the national archives on Wednesday as part of a pledge to examine France’s role in the 1990s genocide in Rwanda.

Macron’s office pledged to make about 8,000 documents linked to French activities in the African nation publicly available.

The move follows a government-ordered report released in March, which found that French authorities remained blind to the preparations for genocide.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame called the report “an important step toward a common understanding of what took place.”

Speaking at an anniversary ceremony marking the start of the genocide, Kagame, in his first public response to the report, said, “it shows the desire, even for leaders in France, to move forward with a good understanding of what happened.”

The report said France supported the “racist” and “violent” government of then-Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana and then reacted too slowly in appreciating the extent of the killings.

But it cleared the French government, then led by Francois Miterrand, of complicity in the slaughter that leftover 800,000 people dead, mainly ethnic Tutsis and the Hutus who tried to protect them.

Historian Vincent Duclert, who led the commission, told The Associated Press that “for 30 years, the debate on Rwanda was full of lies, violence, manipulations, threats of trials. That was a suffocating atmosphere.”

Duclert said it was important to acknowledge France’s role for what it was: a “monumental failure.”

“Now we must speak the truth,” he said. “And that truth will allow, we hope, [France] to get a dialogue and a reconciliation with Rwanda and Africa.”

The genocide was sparked on April 6, 1994, when a plane carrying Habyarimana and his Burundian counterpart Cyprien Ntaryamira, a fellow Hutu, was downed.

A little over two months later, the UN authorised the deployment of French forces to the southwest of the country as part of Operation Turquoise.

The report ruled out the accusation of wrongdoing by Operation Turquoise, which has been accused of being a failed attempt at propping up the Hutu-led government in Rwanda.

That mission proved to be controversial: the French humanitarian zone saved some potential victims from the genocidal killers.

But some later alleged that the French help had come too late and that some killers had also managed to hide in the safe zone.

A French government inquiry that spent nearly two years uncovering France’s role in 1994’s Rwandan genocide cleared the country of being complicit in the slaughter of more than 800,000 people.

The report did rule that France bears “heavy and overwhelming responsibilities” for being “blind” to the events that led up to the killings, which principally claimed victims from Rwanda’s Tutsi ethnic minority.

A Hutu elite ruled Rwanda when the genocide took place in the months of April to June 1994.

But the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) under Paul Kagame, who is now president, ousted them from power.

“We hope that the report might lead to new developments in our relations with Rwanda (and that) this time the process of rapprochement can be irreversible,” a statement by the office of President French Emmanuel Macron said.

“France will at the same time continue its efforts in the fight against the impunity of those responsible for crimes of genocide,” it added.

Several suspected participants in the massacres including Rwandan officials later fled to France, though only a handful of cases have gone to trial.

Persistent claims that France under then-President Francois Mitterrand did not do enough to stop the genocide have damaged ties between both countries.

President Macron set up the 15-member commission in May 2019, to boost relations with Rwanda. The panellists were not Rwanda experts.  Authorities gave them access to official documents and secret files.