France’s current spy chief ‘signed order’ to free top Rwanda genocide suspects, says secret cable

The Telegraph
Henry Samuel Mon, February 15, 2021, 11:08 AM

The skulls of people killed as they sought refuge inside the Ntarama church, part of a memorial to the victims of the 1994 genocide - DAI KUROKAWA/EPA-EFE/REX

France’s current intelligence chief signed an order to release top suspects in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, a previously classified diplomatic cable suggests, in apparently damning evidence of the country’s murky role in the worst massacre since the Holocaust.

Rwanda has long accused France of backing or at the very least turning a blind eye to ethnic Hutu forces behind most of the violence in which 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered, many with machetes, over 100 days.

Kigali has also alleged France facilitated the escape of some of the perpetrators – an allegation Paris has repeatedly rejected.

However, the diplomatic cable unearthed by a lawyer researching France’s conduct in the genocide suggests that Paris knew suspects had sought refuge in a « humanitarian safe zone » controlled by French soldiers but deliberately let them go.

The soldiers had arrived in June 1994 as part of the UN-mandated Operation Turquoise to stop the massacres.

In the cable dated 15 July, 1994, France’s envoy to Rwanda Yannick Gerard writes to his superiors asking for “clear instructions” on how to proceed with genocide suspects, among them Théodore Sindikubwabo, interim President of Rwanda during the April to July killings.

Ten days earlier, he had sent another wire saying he had “direct and matching” testimony that President Sindikubwabo had personally and repeatedly called for the “total elimination of Tutsis” and that one minister had called for the massacre of “women and children”.

A man with machete wounds from the 1994 fighting – Jean-Marc Bouju/AP

« We have no other choice… but to arrest them or place them immediately under house arrest to wait for international judicial authorities to decide their case, » Mr Gerard advises in excerpts of the cable published on Sunday by investigative website Mediapart.

In response to Mr Gérard’s message and for his eyes only, the French foreign ministry cable stipulates: « You can… use all indirect channels, especially your African contacts, without exposing yourself directly, to transmit to these authorities our wish that they leave the Humanitarian Safe Zone. »

« You will note in particular that the international community, and in particular the United Nations, will determine very soon how to proceed with these so-called authorities, » it goes on, referring to the former Hutu regime who had sought refuge in southwest Rwanda near the border with what was then Zaire.

The revelation will cause intense embarrassment to the French as it is signed by Bernard Emie, a foreign ministry adviser at the time who today head of France’s DGSE foreign intelligence service.

Mr Emie and Alain Juppé, foreign minister of the time, have declined to comment.

May 23, 1994, file photo, a Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) rebel walks by the plane wreckage in which Rwanda’s President Juvenal Habyarimana died April 6, 1994, in Kigali, Rwanda. – Jean-Marc Bouju/AP

The telegram lay for 25 years in the archives of an adviser to Francois Mitterrand, the French president at the time, until unearthed by Francois Graner, a lawyer who works with the victims’ rights group « Survie » (Survival).

« It’s the missing written piece of evidence, an essential piece of the puzzle, » Mr Graner told AFP.

He finally won a five-year battle last June to gain access to the Mitterrand archives when France’s Council of State ruled that his request was “legitimate” in order to “shed light on the debate over an issue of public interest”.

France has always denied claims that it sided with the Hutu regime and failed to stop the bloodshed that followed the 1994 assassination of then-president Juvenal Habyarimana.

But in 2019, President Emmanuel Macron announced the creation of an expert panel of historians and researchers to look into the claims, granting them wide access to previously classified documents.

The move was hailed by victims and survivors’ groups. It is due to report its findings this year.

Retired general Jean Varret told Radio France that France was at fault for failing to act despite clear signs the Hutu regime was preparing for genocide.

Mr Varret recounted how Col Pierre-Célestin Rwagafilita, head of the Rwandan gendarmerie, had told him: “I’m asking for weapons, because I’m going to participate with the army in the liquidation of the problem. The problem is very simple: the Tutsis are not very numerous, we’re going to liquidate them.”

When he relayed the chilling request, he said “nobody listened”.

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