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Ex-Rwandan Officer Goes On Trial In France For Genocide


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne. A trial in France is shedding more light on the genocide in Rwanda and 20 years after it occurred France's role in the killing. A former intelligience official close to the family of the then-president went on trial yesterday in Paris. He's charged with abetting the massacre of 800,000 ethnic Tutsis by Hutu militias.

Suspects have faced charges in other European countries, Canada and the U.S., but this is the first time an alleged perpetrator of the killings has been tried in France. And NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports that the trial highlights how France supported some of those who organized the massacres.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Fifty-four-year-old wheelchair-bound Pascal Simbikangwa is described as a Hutu extremist and is accused of crimes against humanity. Simbikangwa allegedly handed out weapons to Hutu militia squads and was one of the founders of propaganda-spouting radio Milles Collines, whose virulent broadcasts encouraged Hutus to massacre Tutsis. Simbikangwa was arrested in 2008 on the French island of Mayotte. He's been waiting for trial in a French prison for six years.

At the Paris courthouse, Alain Gauthier spoke to reporters. Gauthier's group of Tutsi survivors was key in pushing French justice to bring Simbikangwa to trial after all these years.

ALAIN GAUTHIER: (Through translator) We have fought far too long for this first trial in France. The genocide took place nearly 20 years ago. The first lawsuits were filed in 1995 and these people have still not been brought to justice.

BEARDSLEY: Gauthier says the French government in 1994 was complicit - militarily, diplomatically and politically - with the Rwandan genocide regime. The trial is expected to last two months and will present thousands of pieces of evidence and documents.


BEARDSLEY: Also shown will be harrowing video from a French documentary called "Kill Them All." And witnesses including journalists, historians, farmers, security guards and former intelligence officials will be called. Analysts say Simbikangwa's trial will focus on what led to the genocide and France's role in the build-up to it.

From 1990 to 1993, just prior to the genocide, France, under President Francois Mitterrand, supported the Hutu government and armed and trained the Rwandan military. As the three month killing spree drew to an end in June of 1994, France launched a humanitarian military operation on Rwanda's western border with Zaire, today's Democratic Republic of Congo.

Operation Turquoise, as it was called, managed to let thousands of Hutu extremists who had butchered Tutsis slip through the border. Antoine Glaser is an Africa expert.

ANTOINE GLASER: (through translator) Because of everything, the French army is extremely sensitive about Rwanda and Rwanda is nearly a taboo subject in France. People don't talk about it much and when they do, it's not objective; it's very complicated and fraught with emotion.

BEARDSLEY: French journalist Renaud Girard is a witness at the trial.

RENAUD GIRARD: Politically to have spent so much money and to have sent troops to a country like Rwanda and it ends with a genocide, it's a huge catastrophe for French policy. Does it make French military criminal? No. Again, they were not there when these people were assassinated. But is it a huge failure? Yes, it is.

BEARDSLEY: Following the genocide, a Tutsi government led by Paul Kagame came to power and brought charges against several French officials - including President Mitterrand - for abetting the genocide. Diplomatic relations between the two countries were only reestablished in 2010. French President Nicolas Sarkozy went to Kigali to pay homage to the genocide victims.


BEARDSLEY: Sarkozy said France made mistakes, but stopped short of the apology some Rwandans wanted to hear. The trip was controversial with some French politicians back home. Analysts say Simbikangwa's trial could clear the way for 25 more Rwandan genocide cases awaiting trial in Paris. And it shows France is finally dealing with its haunting Rwanda legacy. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley
Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.
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