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Rwanda - France

French judges launch week-long Rwanda probe

France Inter

A team of French judges and experts investigating the shooting down of Rwanda's former president Juvenal Habyarimana's plane 16 years ago questioned witnesses and visited several sites in Kigali on Monday. A political analyst tells RFI the probe is likely to reawaken sensitive political issues.  

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An earlier French investigation blamed the incident on forces close to current President Paul Kagame, which caused Rwanda to break off diplomatic ties with France for a period.

Along with a five-member team of surveyors, ballistics, explosives and fire experts, anti-terrorism judges Marc Trevidic and Nathalie Poux will spend the week working to determine where the missiles that downed the plane were fired from. The plane's pilots were French.

The French team suspect a commando unit of then Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) rebels
of infiltrating the Rwandan Hutu armed forces (FAR). They allege that infiltrators fired two SAM-16 missiles from the Massaka hill overlooking the airport to the east of the
runway where the plane was coming in to land at Kigali airport.

But Rwanda has blamed the attack on "Hutu Power" extremists within the FAR who wanted to eliminate their fellow Hutu president in order to prepare a coup d'etat.

The French team visited the president's residence Monday and are set to visit the crash site.

Filip Reyntjens, a professor of African History and Politics at the University of Antwerp, tells RFI the enquiry is likely to increase tensions between Paris and Kigali.

"It is clearly an extremely delicate case," says Reyntjens. "The judges will realise that what they are doing is bound to have political repercussions."

The French embassy in Kigali said the outcome of the investigation will be known only after "several weeks of study in France."

 

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