PARIS (Reuters) - A French prosecutor has recommended dropping charges against eight senior Rwandan officials, including the defense minister, who were being investigated over the death of president Juvenal Habyarimana in 1994, a judicial source told Reuters.
The probe, opened in France in 1998 following demands by relatives of the French crew who died when Habyarimana’s plane was downed, has led to major tensions between France and Rwanda over the past two decades.
It is now up to investigative magistrates to decide whether to stop the investigation or carry it on and take it to a tribunal. Judges do not necessarily follow prosecutors’ recommendations.
Habyarimana’s killing triggered a genocide in which ethnic Hutu extremists killed more than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
The prosecutor made its recommendation to shut the case on Wednesday, saying the investigation had not brought sufficient evidence, the judicial source said.
Rwandan Defence Minister James Kabarebe was one of the officials targeted by the investigation.
Lawyers for the people targeted by the probe welcomed the prosecutor’s recommendation, but Philippe Meilhac, a lawyer for Agathe Habyarimana, the former president’s widow, criticized it as a political move, which comes at a time when Paris is seeking to mend ties with Kigali.
“This has political motives,” Meilhac told Reuters. The prosecutor’s office could not immediately be reached for comment.
Rwanda’s foreign minister was named head of the International Organisation of La Francophonie (OIF) on Friday, a sign of slowly improving relations between Paris and Kigali.
French President Emmanuel Macron announced his support for Louise Mushikiwabo’s candidacy during a visit to Paris earlier this year by Rwandan leader Paul Kagame, who has long accused France of complicity in the 1994 genocide.
Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Richard Lough and Mark Potter