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France’s Macron heads to Rwanda to reset relations

President’s visit to Kigali aimed at turning page from decades of diplomatic friction over France’s role in the 1994 genocide.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame receives French President Emmanuel Macron at the Presidential Palace in Kigali.

French President Emmanuel Macron has travelled to Rwanda for a highly symbolic visit aimed at repairing relations between the two countries after decades of Rwandan accusations that France was complicit in the 1994 genocide.

Macron arrived in the capital, Kigali, early on Thursday and is due to hold talks with Rwandan President Paul Kagame. But the most anticipated part of his speech will come when Macron gives a speech at the Kigali Genocide Memorial, where some 250,000 victims of the mass killings are buried.

Some in Rwanda will be hoping for an official apology that France failed to help stop the 100-day killing spree against 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

“It would be a very good thing if Emmanuel Macron apologises,” said Freddy Mutanguha, the director of the Aegis Trust NGO which runs the Kigali memorial.

Kagame, who has visited Macron in Paris twice since the latter took office four years ago, has played down the importance of the issue, saying any apology on the matter had to be spontaneous.

Macron’s visit follows the release in March of a report by a French inquiry panel that said a colonial attitude had blinded French officials and the government bore a “serious and overwhelming” responsibility for not foreseeing the slaughter. However, the report absolved France of direct complicity in the killings.

Kagame, who has previously said France participated in the genocide, said last week that the report “meant a lot” to people in his country.

Rwandans could “maybe not forget, but forgive”, France for its role, said Kagame, a Tutsi and the main power in Rwandan politics since his rebel army ended the killings by death squads loyal to the Hutu-led government.

Macron agreed in April to open the Rwanda archives of former President Francois Mitterrand, who was in charge during the genocide. Shortly afterwards, Rwanda released its own report that found France was aware a genocide was being prepared and bore responsibility for enabling it, continuing in its unwavering support for Rwanda’s then-President, Juvenal Habyarimana.

It was the shooting down of Habyarimana’s plane, killing the president, that unleashed the frenzy of killings.

“French officials armed, advised, trained, equipped, and protected the Rwandan government,” the report said. France then proceeded to cover up its role for years, it added.

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