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Last Updated: Friday, 24 November 2006, 18:50 GMT
Ties frayed by decades of tension
By Mark Doyle
BBC World Affairs correspondent

Protesters in the Rwandan capital, Kigali
The arrest warrants sparked protests in Kigali

The only surprise about Rwanda's breaking-off of diplomatic relations with France is that it has not come earlier.

The ethnic Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which is now effectively the government of Rwanda, has had appalling relations with Paris for more than two decades.

In the early 1990s the RPF was trying to overthrow the ethnic Hutu-led government of Rwanda.

But the rebels were stopped outside the capital with the help of French commandos who trained the Hutu army and all but pulled the trigger on artillery aimed at the RPF.

This was shortly before the plane carrying the Hutu president was shot down, an event which signalled the start of the genocide of Tutsis and moderate Hutus by the extremist Hutu regime.

The rebel Paul Kagame subsequently became president when he won the war and stopped the mass killing of the Tutsis.

He describes the French allegation that he shot down the plane as ridiculous and has accused France of putting up a smokescreen to hide its involvement with the perpetrators of the genocide.

Leaks

Independent experts say there are many groups which could have had a motive to shoot down the plane.

It could have been radical Hutus, some say, who wanted to stop the then Hutu president from reaching any compromise with the Tutsi rebels.

Other experts say it could have been the Tutsi rebels who did the deed as part of the ongoing war against the regime then in place. Others say mercenaries could have been employed by either side.

Leaks of the prosecution case by the French investigative judge, who has accused President Kagame of involvement in shooting down the plane, suggest that the judge has detailed information about the personnel and weapons systems allegedly deployed.

But those same leaks suggest that much of the information comes from French military intelligence or Rwandans opposed to Mr Kagame.

Whatever the quality of the information the French judge has assembled, the whole affair was always going to be deeply politicised - and Rwanda's breaking off of diplomatic relations with France will only make it more so.




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