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Further call on the French government to release archives dating back to the Rwandan genocide

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French soldiers in Rwanda, ten days after the start of Operation Turquoise. HOCINE ZAOURAR / ARCHIVES / AFP

Anti-racist groups in France held talks at the French Senate to call on the government to release archives dating back to the Rwandan genocide. Rights groups have denounced the shroud of secrecy surrounding this dark chapter in world history and have claimed that French officials are hiding the truth.
 


It has been 21 years since the genocide in which at least 800,000 people - most of them Tutsis - were killed between April and July 1994. Yet a lot of details regarding the military operations and the political decisions made at the time remain unknown to the public.

It's still very unclear to this day, who did what, but more and more actors and witnesses are coming forward because they want the truth to be told.

"As captain in charge of operations, I received the order to prepare a raid on Kigali, to take it back. We were already far from a humanitarian mission... that was the end of June. On the 30th of June, I was ordered to launch air strikes against Kagame's Tutsi forces... so by doing that, we were de facto helping out the Huthu government," Guillaume Ancel, a former Captain who took part in Operation Turquoise, the French-led military operation in Rwanda, told RFI.

"The order was cancelled at the very - and I insist - very last minute. There must have been some hell of a debate within higher powers in France that evening... and it's only then that we stopped supporting the government that was conducting the genocide. But still, we enabled that government to organise the exodus of its own people... and even worse than that, after mid-July, we delivered weapons to refugee camps in Zaire… these refugee camps thus became de facto new military bases."

He explained that the document he wanted to see the most is the one explaining what happened on that night, when the French government realised they needed to pull out as soon as possible.

"What striked me the most during this operation was the fact that there was a humanitarian operation, the only one we talked about, but it was coupled with a very aggressive military operation. The aim of that military mission was to support the Huthu government that was perpetrating a genocide. So maybe we didn't have all the details back then when it came to the government's responsibility. What's for sure is that we supported it, until the very last minute."

"What's troubling me the most is that I found out recently that the French Secret services, in the first weeks of the genocide, had warned the French coalition government that the Huthu government was conducting massive massacres. They warned that France needed to get out of there before it was too late to withdraw... and we did the exact opposite."

The French authorities are still very reluctant to open the archives, the most obvious reason probably being out of shame. Also the people that were in power back then are still very influencial today.

Some of the archives were opened back in 1998, four years after the events. An official commission was set up to figure out what was the exact role of France in the events.

The French government also uncovered some of their own archives few months ago, but many criticise the fact that the most important ones are still kept secret.

"It is important to have the truth told about the genocide of Tutsis in 1994, and especially about the responsibility of some French individuals, who have collaborated with the perpetrators before, during and after the genocide," Benjamin Abtan, the President of the European Grassroots Antiracist Movement, one of the organiser's of tthe conference told RFI.

"We did not speak about that, at least not enough, in France. There's not enough justice and these people are still very influencial in some institutions. It is important that they face their responsibilities, which are very very high and show the collaboration with the Huthu power that organised the genocide of the Tutsis."

He explained that they even had some issue when trying to organise the conference in Paris.

"Last year, France was not present during the commemoration of the genocide. Twenty one years on and it's extremely complicated to talk about this issue in France. We had booked a place four months ago in the French National Assembly, and suddenly, the Socialist party decided to cancel it. Our subsidies were suppressed by the ministry of foreign affairs because they are under high pressure to silence the people who want to speak about that, and especially when we want to talk about the penal responsibilities of those who collaborated with the perpetrators."

But until the archives are fully disclosed, historians will not be able to record what really happened.

It remains unclear when all the archives will be released. If the government has released some of its own archives, historians say that they were the ones everyone already knew about.

The archives everyone wants to get a hold of are those from the France's Secret Service and the French army.

"Of course there is a role, and now the main point is to define what exactly is this role. It's difficult to say how much responsibility does France have considering that the French government supported the Rwandan government that committed a genocide. So yes, there is a role, but now we need the archives to have a better understanding of the situation. But there are still plenty of archives, related to the French ministry of defense which have to be declassified," Rémi Korman, a historian who specialises in the Rwandan Genocide, told RFI.

"The main problem is when some people, especially politicians, are reluctant to do that, to open the archives. The thing is, there are loads of sources. Normally we have to wait 50 years before opening the archives, but considering this was a genocide, I think it would be a good idea to have access to them before that period."

Every year, the French authorities say they will diclassify all archives, and it has yet to happen.