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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 October 2006, 16:51 GMT 17:51 UK
France accused on Rwanda killings
A survivor prays at a mass grave
Some 800,000 people were killed in 100 days
A former senior Rwandan diplomat has told a tribunal that France played an active role in Rwanda's 1994 genocide.

Former Rwandan ambassador to Paris Jacques Bihozagara said French involvement stemmed from concerns about its diminishing influence in Africa.

France has denied playing any role in the 100-day frenzy of killing in which 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus died.

After the hearings, the Rwandan panel will rule on whether to file a suit at the International Court of Justice.

The panel is headed by former Justice Minister Jean de Dieu Mucyo and its proceedings, which began in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, on Tuesday, are being broadcast live on local radio.

It is hearing from 25 survivors of the genocide, who claim to have witnessed French involvement.

"This is an important inquiry that should be witnessed by everyone interested in this important episode of our history," Mr Mucyo was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.

'No regret'

"France has not expressed regret," AFP quotes Mr Bihozagara as saying during his three-hour testimony.

He added that even after the genocide the French government had not apprehended genocide suspects living in France.

The BBC's Geoffrey Mutagoma in Kigali says that it is also alleged that French soldiers provided escape routes to militia escaping to the Democratic Republic of Congo after the massacres.

French soldiers were deployed in parts of Rwanda in the final weeks of the genocide under a United Nations mandate known as Operation Turquoise to set up a protected zone.

But Rwanda says the soldiers allowed Hutu extremists to enter Tutsi camps.

"Operation Turquoise was aimed only at protecting genocide perpetrators, because the genocide continued even within the Turquoise zone," Mr Bihozagara said.

The panel's findings are expected within six months.

A French military court is conducting a separate investigation into claims that French soldiers played a part in the genocide.

Separately, some of Rwanda's most high-profile genocide cases have already been tried by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), based in the Tanzanian town of Arusha.

Twenty-five ringleaders have been convicted since 1997, but the Rwandan government has expressed frustration at the slow legal process.



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