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Genocide findings cause an uproar

A French judge says the current Rwanda leader plotted the '94 chaos that left 800,000 dead.

February 17, 2007|Sebastian Rotella | Times Staff Writer

PARIS — More than a decade after the genocide, a mystery still lies at the heart of Rwanda's darkness.

But France's most celebrated anti-terrorism magistrate believes he knows who assassinated two African presidents on April 6, 1994. The shooting down of the Rwandan presidential jet that night was followed by the killings of an estimated 800,000 people, most of them members of the Tutsi minority.

In a report to French prosecutors late last year, Magistrate Jean-Louis Bruguiere accused the Tutsi leader who is now president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, of ordering the assassination.

The investigation includes allegations that U.S. and U.N. officials helped quash earlier inquiries to protect Kagame, an ally of the United States.

The French judge's report, which was obtained by The Times, has caused an uproar in Africa and Europe, and led Kagame's government to break off relations with France.

A United Nations tribunal is judging perpetrators of the genocide, but the ghosts of Rwanda still haunt a world community that failed to intervene. French investigators do not claim that the assassination was the sole cause of the genocide. Tensions already were growing between Tutsis and Rwanda's majority Hutus. But Bruguiere alleges that Kagame sacrificed fellow Tutsis in a brutal "political calculation" aimed at toppling the Hutu-dominated government.

"Kagame deliberately chose a modus operandi that, in the particularly tense environment ... between the Hutu and Tutsi communities, could only cause bloody retaliation against the Tutsi community," says the judge's report, which recommends that prosecutors file formal charges.

Former U.N. investigators who initially looked into the assassination told Bruguiere that their bosses had blocked efforts to pursue leads implicating Kagame. The 67-page French report presents testimony from exiled Kagame bodyguards, spies and commanders. They identified a commando team that allegedly shot down the plane, killing President Juvenal Habyarimana and the president of neighboring Burundi, as well as their aides and the French crew.

In November, Bruguiere issued warrants for nine high-ranking Rwandan officials in the investigation, which he opened in response to a complaint from the widow of one of the French pilots. The judge also urged a U.N. war crimes tribunal on Rwanda to investigate Kagame, who as a head of state is immune from prosecution.

The warrants put Rwandan suspects in danger of arrest if they travel, and Kagame also could be in jeopardy once he leaves office. But a trial in France seems remote for now.

In response to the warrants, Kagame accused the French of trying to conceal their ties to former Hutu leaders and said the prosecution amounted to blaming the victims.

"Mr. Bruguiere is an impostor, a politician," Kagame said. "If he were a judge, he would raise the question of the implication of France in the genocide of the Tutsis in Rwanda."

Magistrate ruffles feathers

Bruguiere's eight-year investigation led French detectives through a diaspora of Rwandan exiles in Africa, Europe and North America. It also revealed intrigue sometimes pitting France and its African allies against forces supported by the United States and Britain.

Bruguiere, 63, has ruffled diplomatic feathers before. He charged six Libyan intelligence officials, including the brother-in-law of the nation's leader, Moammar Kadafi, in the bombing of a flight from Zaire -- now known as Congo -- to Paris in 1989 that killed 170 people. The charges irritated French diplomats who had been trying to improve relations with Kadafi, but a French court eventually convicted the Libyans in absentia.

The high-profile Rwanda prosecution could culminate the career of the swashbuckling French magistrate. Facing mandatory retirement in two years, Bruguiere is likely to run for the legislature this spring and could also aspire to a Cabinet post.

Critics accuse Bruguiere of grandstanding and sloppiness. His report contains "disconcerting errors" such as misspelled names, Le Monde newspaper said. One of the witnesses, a former Kagame soldier living in Europe, has reversed his testimony and denied that he participated in shooting down the plane.

But a former chief U.N. investigator applauded Bruguiere for taking a new look at the case. The version of events advanced by the Rwandan government is that extremist Hutus killed the president as a pretext for launching the genocide, but Rwandan authorities have never charged anyone in the assassination.

"People feel very comfortable because there's a version of history out there, they've published books, made films, and they feel comfortable leaving it alone," said Michael Hourigan, an Australian who says he quit in disgust when ordered to stop investigating Kagame. "Someone needs to explain why there's been no investigation."

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