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Last Updated: Saturday, 26 January 2008, 23:10 GMT
France bids to mend Rwandan ties
Bernard Kouchner lays a wreath at the genocide memorial in Kigali on 26 January
Bernard Kouchner laid a wreath at the genocide memorial in Kigali
France's foreign minister has defended his country's stance during the Rwandan genocide on a fleeting visit to the country aimed at improving ties.

Bernard Kouchner said France bore no "military responsibility" but did commit a "political fault" by failing to understand what was happening.

He was speaking at a news conference after talks with President Paul Kagame, who welcomed him as a "good friend".

The 1994 genocide has haunted France's ties with the country.

Rwanda severed diplomatic relations in 2006 amid French allegations that Mr Kagame had been behind the assassination of President Juvenal Habyarimana in 1994.

That murder sparked the genocide, in which some 800,000 mainly Rwandan Tutsis were killed by majority Hutus.

Mr Kagame, a Tutsi, alleges that France backed Hutu militias in 1994, a charge that Paris has always vehemently denied.

But in a meeting between Mr Kagame and French President Nicolas Sarkozy last December, the decision was made to revive bilateral relations.

MSF experience

Mr Kouchner's visit marks the first time a senior French official has travelled to the central African nation in four years.

Genocide memorial site
6 April: Rwandan Hutu President Habyarimana killed when plane shot down
April -July: An estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus killed
July: Tutsi-led rebel movement RPF captures Rwanda's capital Kigali
July: Two million Hutus flee to Zaire, now the DRC

"It was certainly a political fault," he said at the joint news conference in Kigali.

"We didn't understand what happened. But there was no military responsibility."

As co-founder of Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), Mr Kouchner went to Rwanda several times during the genocide to help organise humanitarian corridors.

"As I was there, I remember very well," he said.

"I have never attacked the French army and I would never do so because [the genocide] was not its responsibility."

'Looking forward'

Mr Kagame echoed the French minister's call for restoring good relations.

"We are looking forward and we want to get rid of the obstacles based on the mistakes of the past," he said.

"We will put mechanisms in place."

After Rwanda, Mr Kouchner was scheduled to move on to the West African nation of Burkina Faso, a key mediator in the peace process in the divided Ivory Coast.

Earlier this week, he spent two days in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, where he welcomed a commitment by all Rwanda's armed groups to immediately cease hostilities in the east of the country.

He had been due to raise with Mr Kagame the issue of the repatriation of Rwandan Hutu rebels who have long been based in DRC and are regarded as a threat to regional peace.


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