Rwanda rids country of French interests

Rwanda moved on Monday to clear vestiges of French interests in the country after breaking all ties with Paris in a major diplomatic row stemming from the Central African nation’s 1994 genocide.

As a 72-hour deadline for the French embassy and the French school to close their operations in Kigali neared, authorities also ordered Radio France International to halt its local broadcasts.

“The radio has been taken off air in line with the Cabinet decision [of] stopping all activities of state institutions of France,” Information Minister Laurent Nkusi told the media.

The move leaves the BBC, Voice of America and Germany’s Deutsche Welle as the only international radio stations broadcasting to Rwanda on FM.

Earlier, officials posted a notice at the already shuttered French school, Ecole Antoine de Saint-Exupery, in downtown Kigali, informing parents and pupils of the school’s closure in line with the Cabinet’s decision on Friday.

Kigali’s drastic move was sparked last week when French Judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere called for President Paul Kagame to be tried for alleged complicity in the death of former president Juvenal Habyarimana, believed to have sparked the mass killings.

The emergency Cabinet meeting ordered the French ambassador out of the country within 24 hours in addition to the closure of the embassy and the school.

“In accordance with the Cabinet decision of November 24 2006, the administration of Ecole Antoine de Saint-Exupery notifies all parents and students of this school that it will be closed this Monday November 27,” the terse notice read.

“Parents are asked to keep their children at home awaiting new directives,” it added.

Even then, some parents and students showed up at the school gates, where the signboard bearing the school’s name had been smudged with fresh paint, to come to terms with the abrupt turn of events.

“I’m quite disappointed. The Cabinet shouldn’t have closed a school,” said Faustin Niwemugabo, a parent whose three children study there.

“I think we Rwandans will lose more since our children account for the majority of the students in this school,” he said. “A school is a school. You can close an embassy and such political institutions but not a school.”

“I can’t believe this has happened. I had to come here and see for myself,” said another parent, Angelique Mulisa.

Relations between the two former close allies soured in the recent months over recriminations in the 1994 mass slaughter that claimed an estimated 800 000 lives within a space of 100 days.

Rwanda says that French troops deployed at the height of the genocide trained and armed the Hutu Interahamwe militia accused of the mass murder, and has established an inquiry panel to probe those claims.

But Bruguiere’s charges allege that Kagame, then a Tutsi rebel leader, had a hand in the April 6 1994 downing of then-president Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane over Kigali, an act said to have sparked the genocide.

“We had warned Paris several times that this [Bruguiere] report would be negatively received here and that the Rwanda government would break diplomatic relations,” said a French diplomat finalising his departure from Rwanda.

The French embassy was a scene of frenzied activity as several officials dashed back and forth transporting their belongings while the deadline drew closer.

“We regret that the ambassador has left without bidding us goodbye or a word of appreciation,” said one Rwandan embassy employee. “We feel abandoned.”

Kagame has stridently denied Bruguiere’s charges, terming them “rubbish” and accusing France of “bullyish” behaviour. He said Paris should instead face trial for its alleged genocide roles.—Sapa-AFP



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