PARIS (Reuters) - A top French judge has called for Rwandan President Paul Kagame to be brought before a U.N. court over a 1994 plane crash that killed the country’s president and sparked a genocide, a judicial source said on Tuesday.
Anti-terrorism magistrate Jean-Louis Bruguiere is also seeking international arrest warrants for nine Kagame associates, including the military’s chief of staff, according to an official document seen by Reuters.
Rwanda’s foreign minister dismissed the arrest warrants as an attempt to cover up what Rwanda says was France’s role in training soldiers who carried out the genocide.
In a 65-page document filed with the Paris prosecutor’s office on Tuesday, Bruguiere said there was evidence that “Paul Kagame and members of his military staff devised the operation” to destroy Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane.
The Hutu leader’s aircraft was hit by a missile as he returned to the capital Kigali from a summit and his death triggered a genocide of about 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
Under French law, a warrant cannot be issued for Kagame because a serving head of state has immunity. But Bruguiere has written to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan asking for Kagame to be brought before the Arusha-based International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), the judicial source said.
“It is unthinkable that Kofi Annan would do nothing,” said a senior French magistrate who asked not to be named.
Bruguiere’s probe followed a complaint by the families of the French crew flying Habyarimana’s plane and the late leader’s widow Agathe.
Kagame was then leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front which defeated the Habyarimana government’s Hutu militias to end the genocide. A Tutsi, he accuses France of training soldiers it knew would later commit genocide, a charge Paris has denied.
“The French are trying to appease their conscience for their role in the genocide and are now trying to find someone else to hold responsible for their acts here,” Foreign Affairs Minister Charles Murigande said in Kigali.
“They have panicked because they know their acts during the genocide were going to be exposed to the rest of the world in the on-going probe commission here,” he told Reuters.
French Foreign Ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei said Paris wanted to continue to work with Kigali but would not comment on a judicial matter or respond to Murigande’s comments.
The Rwandan government launched an inquiry last month into allegations France helped the Hutu government in the slaughter.
Bruguiere is seeking warrants for James Kabarebe, military chief of staff; Charles Kayonga, army chief of staff; Faustin Nyamwasa-Kayumba, ambassador to India; Jackson Nkurunziza, a Ugandan working for the Rwandan presidential guard; Samuel Kanyamera, an FPR deputy; Jacob Tumwime, an army officer; Franck Nziza, a presidential guard officer; Eric Hakizimana, an intelligence officer; and Rose Kabuye, nee Kanyange, director general of state protocol.
Though Rwanda was a Belgian colony until independence in 1962, France kept close links with the Francophone nation from 1975 to 1994, giving financial and military support.
France sent troops to Rwanda at the height of the genocide under a U.N.-authorized operation, saying it was safeguarding the provision of food and emergency medical services.
Additional reporting by Arthur Asiimwe in Kigali and Brian Rohan in Paris