President of Rwanda Paul Kagame charged in international Court With war crimes
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By Andrew England in Nairobi
November 21 2006 17:45
The Paris prosecutor’s office has approved the issue of arrest warrants against Paul Kagame, Rwanda’s president, and nine of his associates in connection with the shooting down of an aircraft that killed a Rwandan head of state and triggered the 1994 genocide in the central African country.
The move is the latest twist in a long-running feud between Mr Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and French authorities over their alleged roles leading up to and during the genocide. The killing, by militias and government soldiers, began on April 6, 1994 after the aircraft carrying Juvenal Habyarimana, as well as Burundi’s president, was shot down as it flew into Kigali, the Rwandan capital.
In spite of the prosecutor’s approval, French law grants immunity to sitting heads of state and a warrant could not be issued against Mr Kagame while he remains in office. He is in the middle of a seven-year term and has the option of running for a second term.
James Kabarebe, Rwanda’s military chief of staff, also faces an arrest warrant, as do other military and intelligence personnel.
Rwandan officials reacted angrily to the news.
“It’s very absurd for a foreign judge in a foreign country to issue indictments against authorities in a sovereign state for alleged crimes committed in that sovereign state,” Tharcisse Karugarama, the justice minister, told the Financial Times. “We view this as political intimidation by a big power using judicial power to enhance a political programme.”
It has never been clear who was responsible for shooting down the aircraft, which was being flown by a French crew.
Jean-Louis Bruguiere, a French anti-terrorism magistrate, has been investigating the crash since 1998, when the crew’s family filed a complaint.
At the time of the genocide, Mr Kagame was the leader of the RPF, then a rebel group dominated by members of Rwanda’s minority Tutsi community. The genocide, which was planned in advance and orchestrated by Mr Habyarimana’s extremist Hutu government, ended when the RPF seized Kigali in July of 1994. More than 500,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in the 100-day slaughter.
The Rwandan government accuses France of supporting Mr Habyarimana’s regime, and launched a commission last month to probe France’s role in the genocide.
Mr Karugarama said the latest revelations from France were designed to pre-empt the inquiry’s findings. He said Mr Bruguiere had not visited Rwanda and was basing his evidence on information from opponents of the Rwandan government living in exile.
France denies involvement in the genocide and says its military interventions helped Rwandans.
Although Rwanda was a Belgian colony, France gave financial and military support from 1975 to 1994.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006