AFP – Preparations in Rwanda Sunday for the commemorations for the 20th anniversary of the genocide were overshadowed by a major spat with France amid renewed allegations that Paris was complicit in the killings.
The French government announced that it was pulling out of Monday’s events after Rwandan President Paul Kagame again accused France, an ally of the Hutu nationalist government prior to the 1994 killings, of having helped the murder of 800,000 ethnic Tutsis take place.
Speaking to the weekly Jeune Afrique, Kagame denounced the “direct role of Belgium and France in the political preparation for the genocide”, and said French soldiers who were sent to Rwanda when the killings started were both accomplices and “actors” in the bloodbath.
Paris has repeatedly denied the accusations and insisted that French forces had striven to protect civilians.
French foreign ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said he was “surprised” by Kagame’s accusations, saying they went against reconciliation efforts between the two countries. He also announced that French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira would be staying away.
“France regrets that it cannot take part in the 20th anniversary commemorations for the genocide,” he said.
Former colonial power Belgium, which unlike France has apologised to Rwanda for failing to prevent the genocide, said it would still be sending a senior delegation for the commemorations.
Official mourning, which began three months ago with a flame of remembrance touring the small nation from village to village, culminate Monday when the torch arrives at the national genocide memorial.
President Kagame will light a flame that will burn for 100 days, the length of time it took government soldiers and Hutu militia to kill hundreds of thousands of people.
Wreathes will also be laid at the national genocide memorial, before ceremonies in Kigali’s football stadium, where UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, as well as several African presidents, is due to attend.
Ban said the commemorations were a chance to remind the world to do all it can to ensure such crimes never happen again. The UN was heavily criticised in 1994 for not doing more to stop the killing.
“The scale of the brutality in Rwanda still shocks: an average of 10,000 deaths per day, day after day, for three months,” Ban said in a statement Sunday, adding that the impact of the massacres are still being felt across an “arc of uncertainty in Africa’s Great Lakes region — and in the collective conscience of the international community”.
“The international community cannot claim to care about atrocity crimes and then shrink from the commitment of resources and will be required to actually prevent them,” Ban added.
“People everywhere should place themselves in the shoes of the vulnerable, from Syria to the Central African Republic, and ask themselves what more they can do to build a world of human rights and dignity for all,” Ban added.
Several African heads of state are expected, but it is not clear who will head delegations from neighbouring Tanzania and Democratic Republic of Congo, with whom Rwanda’s diplomatic relations have been strained in recent months.
Rwanda has repeatedly denied allegations it backed rebels in eastern DR Congo, while Tanzanian troops last year joined a new United Nations brigade set up to quash the myriad militia forces in same zone.
Many in Rwanda are remembering in their own deeply personal, quiet and reflective way.
In one church in Kigali, where the congregation knelt in silence to remember those who had died in 1994, several wiped away tears as they stood up to sing.
“This time of year the memories are too much, too much to bear,” said Louise Ndamyimana, an elderly woman whose family were all killed in 1994, her voice trembling as she waited for a bus after attending Catholic mass.
Rwanda’s Red Cross has boosted its support staff for those hit hard by the memory of trauma, as the media floods with stories recalling the horrific stories of those who survived.
“I think about those who died every hour of every day, but the thoughts of what happened are overwhelming,” Ndamyimana added.
The official “Kwibuka” mourning – meaning “remember” in Kinyarwanda, and with the slogan “remember, unite, renew” – ends on 4 July, Rwanda’s liberation day.