The emergence of a “new witness” in France in the shooting of the plane carrying former Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana on April 6, 1994, has angered Rwanda and is likely to worsen the deteriorating diplomatic ties between Kigali and Paris.
Rwanda’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Louise Mushikiwabo said the government is “running out of patience” with France due to the back and forth on a file by French judges, accusing senior members of the Rwanda Patriotic Front/Army (RPF/A) of shooting down the aeroplane – an act which is believed to have sparked off the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi.
Ms Mushikiwabo said the advent of the new witness is a sign France is determined to cover up its role in the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.
“Some elements in France have a lot to hide. New witnesses will keep popping up out of nowhere, as this case is meant to cover up for their role in the genocide,” Ms Mushikiwabo said.
The bombing conspiracy
The yet-to-be named witness claims that he saw two surface-to-air missiles at the Mulindi headquarters of the RPF/A rebel group commanded by President Paul Kagame. He also claims to have loaded the SA-16 missiles onto a truck and that these would later be used to down the plane.
According to French media, the witness named two key senior military officers in the bombing conspiracy.
Rwanda and France maintain differing narratives on the genocide, with Kigali insisting that it was pre-planned, adding that French officials and military personnel were involved directly, while Paris maintains that the downing of the Dassault Falcon 50 jet in which president Habyarimana, Burundian president Cyprien Ntaryamira and others were killed, sparked off the wave of ethnic killings.
In 2006, French judge Jean-Louis Bruguière began investigations into the shooting of the aeroplane and later issued international warrants of arrest for nine senior RPF officials that he accused of ordering the downing of the plane.
This angered Kigali and brought diplomatic ties between the two countries to an all-time low.
Rwanda published its own investigation report at the beginning of 2010, blaming the shooting down of the aeroplane on members of President Habyarimana’s inner circle including Col Theoneste Bagosora, considered the architect of the genocide.
The report, named after former justice minister Jean Mutsinzi, who led the probe, found that the RPF was not responsible for shooting the plane because Kanombe, the location from which the missiles were fired at the aeroplane, was under the control of government forces at the time.
The new witness seemed to affirm claims that the missiles came from Masaka, south of the capital Kigali, which was occupied by RPF fighters.
In 2010, after the two countries restored diplomatic ties under President Nicholas Sarkozy, France offered to assign new judges to the probe and indeed, two years later in 2012, judges Marc Trévidic and Nathalie Poux concluded that the missiles came from Kanombe Military Barracks, which was controlled by government forces.
Following the findings, Kigali and Paris seemed to enjoy a period of warm relations but it was not long before French judges offered to hear new witnesses, mainly dissidents who were all former members of RPF – something that does not amuse Kigali.
Exiled general Kayumba Nyamwasa, a former army chief of staff, has also offered to testify in France, but he is one of the accused RPF officers.
Rwanda maintains that France played an active role in the 1994 genocide, pointing an accusing finger at dozens of politicians and senior military officers.