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FRANCE - RWANDA

Rwandan defence minister refuses to face French judge over Habyaramina death

General James Kabarebe (2nd L with African Union troops in Kigali in 2005
General James Kabarebe (2nd L with African Union troops in Kigali in 2005 AFP/Jose Cendon

Rwanda's defence minister has refused to comply with a French examining magistrate's summons to face a witness who accuses him of involvement in the shooting-down of then-president Juvénal Habyaramina's plane, an event that is believed to have sparked the 1994 genocide.

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General James Kabarebe and another Rwandan suspect did not appear before anti-terror judge Jean-Marc Herbaut in Paris on Thursday, lawyer Bernard Maingain said.

"It is out of the question to imagine that a defence minister in office go to France to be confronted by such a problematic character," a letter from Maingain and his colleague Léon-Lef Forster told Herbaut on Monday.

The witness in question is James Munyandinda, a former member of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which, under the leadership of current President Paul Kagame, took control of the country after the genocide had killed an estimated 800,000 people, mainly from the Tutsi minority.

He claims he was ordered to guard a missile that was later used to shoot down Habyaramina's plane as it landed in Kigali.

Perjury accusation

The lawyers have submitted evidence to the judge that they claim show Munyadinda's "lack of credibility" and accusing him of perjury.

Herbaut questioned Munyadinda in the suspects' absence on Thursday.

"The witness gave a convincing reply to these accusations of falsehood," the lawyer for Habyaramina's family, Philippe Meilhac, said afterwards.

Seven Kagame associates have been charged in relation to the case in France, poisoning relations between Paris and Kigali, which in turn has accused the French military of involvement in the genocide.

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