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Attack on Habyarimana: a new embarrassing witness for Kagame

Ⓒ BELGA/AFP/Archives – GERARD GAUDIN – | Debris from the plane in which former Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana was killed in April 1994

The French judge in charge of investigating the attack on Rwandan President Habyarimana in 1994, the episode triggering the genocide, wants to confront two members of the Kagame clan in power in Rwanda with a new accuser, at the risk of reviving diplomatic tensions between Paris and Kigali.

On the evening of 6 April 1994, the plane of President Habyarimana, a Hutu, was shot down during the landing phase in Kigali by at least one missile. This unsolved attack is considered to be the triggering episode of the genocide that killed 800,000 people, according to the UN, mainly among the Tutsi minority.

Since then, two theses are confronted in this investigation, opened in 1998 in Paris after the complaint of the families of the crew, partly French.

The first accused a Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) rebel command of Paul Kagame, the current president, of having entered behind the Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR) device in order to shoot down the plane from Massaka hill , which dominates the airport.

It led the first judge in charge of the case, Jean-Louis Bruguière, to issue nine arrest warrants in 2006 against members of the Kagame clan, causing the rupture of diplomatic relations with Paris until 2009.

Conversely, a Rwandan commission of inquiry accuses extremist Hutu Power of the FAR, who would have liked to get rid of a president deemed too moderate. A theory reinforced by a 2012 report of experts in ballistics who had gone there with judges Marc Trévidic and Nathalie Poux. In their conclusions, presented by the judges, they designated the Kanombe camp, then in the hands of the presidential guard of Habyarimana, as a probable firing area.

– Another missing witness –

The new witness was heard twice in March by Judge Jean-Marc Herbaut, who resumed the investigation. In his hearings, which AFP knew, he said he was a member of the section responsible for monitoring two SA-16 missiles at the RPF headquarters in Mulindi.

At the beginning of March 1994, he and his comrades charged them in the presence of James Kabarebe, a figure of the rebellion who had since become Minister of Defense in a truck that had left for Kigali. But the witness remained at the HQ.

“In July 1994, the two missile shooters, Franck Nziza and Eric Hakizimana, returned to their unit and told us that they had fired from a place called Massaka + bridge where they had a view of the airport, “reports the 41-year-old Tutsi man.

He also quotes James Kabarebe, a member of the personal guard, praising the success of the “mission” on 6 April in the evening.

The judge ordered a mid-December confrontation in Paris with James Kabarebe and Franck Nziza.

A lawyer for the two men, Me Léon-Lef Forster, who is calling for a dismissal since 2010, refused to comment and denounced “a media manipulation”.

The two men are among the seven Kagame relatives who have been charged in this case since 2008. None have been re-heard by the judges since.

To justify his late testimony, the man claimed to have hidden in Uganda in 2008 after receiving the mission to eliminate a comrade from the missile section at the RPF headquarters: “I thought about what was going to happen, arriving myself afterwards considering what I knew “.

The investigation, closed for the first time in July 2014, was reopened quickly to hear another member of this section, Emmanuel Gafirita. But he disappeared in a kidnapping in Kenya in November 2014, before he could be auditioned.

The case was then relaunched in the fall of 2016 to hear a former dissident general who also accuses President Kagame, reviving diplomatic tensions.

Refugee in South Africa and himself targeted since 2006 by one of the arrest warrants of this investigation, this general, Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, has not been heard to date by the French justice.

In response, a Rwandan commission published a list of 22 senior French officers and accused it of involvement in the genocide.

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