French judges close probe into 1994 attack that sparked Rwanda genocide

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Probe by French anti-terror judges into the missile attack on a plane that killed former Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana, sparking Rwanda’s 1994 genocide has come to an end, legal sources said.

The investigation which has been a major source of tension between the two countries following accusations that members of a Tutsi militia headed by current Rwandan President Paul Kagame were responsible.

The missile strike on a plane carrying Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana near Kigali’s airport in April 1994 triggered 100 days of bloodshed that left an estimated 800,000 people dead, mostly members of the Tutsi minority. Everyone onboard Habyarimana’s plane was killed in the surface-to-air missile attack, including Burundi’s President Cyprien Ntaryamira, who was on his way back from peace talks in Tanzania.

Kigali accuses France of complicity in the killings through its support and military training for Habyarimana’s Hutu forces who carried out most of the slaughter.

Ties had been on the mend until 2014 when Kagame repeated accusations that French soldiers had been involved in the bloodbath.

The relationship took an even worse turn when the French judiciary decided in October 2016 to reopen an investigation into the attack on the plane, as the French crew were among the victims.

Seven Tutsis have been charged in absentia by the French judges, including current Defense Minister James Kabarebe and Franck Nziza who allegedly fired the missile.

Kigali launched an inquiry last year into the role of 20 French officials in the butchery with the Kagame government further accusing France of dragging its heels on prosecuting genocide suspects who fled there.

In October, sources close to the probe said that the judges had heard from a new witness who claimed to have seen the surface-to-air missiles used to launch the attack at the headquarters of Kagame’s militia.

The testimony corroborates other versions of events that point the finger at Kagame’s regime.

The judges will now decide whether to send the highly sensitive case to trial the legal sources added. A final decision will be made at an unknown future date.

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