Rwanda genocide trial
A fireman installs the wheelchair of former Rwandan army captain Pascal Simbikangwa before the start of his trial at Paris courtReuters

Captain Pascal Simbikangwa, a former Rwandan intelligence chief is about to go on trial in France for his role in the 1994 genocide that killed more than 500,000 people.

Simbikangwa's trial is the first time someone who is reportedly linked to the genocide will appear before a French court.

Although it is believed 500,000 ethnic Tutsi, including women and children, were slaughtered by the Hutus, some estimates quote a higher death toll anywhere between 500,000 and one million.

The 54-year old wheelchair-bound army man is expected to be on trial for nearly seven weeks.

France had been criticised over the slow legal process since Simbikangwa, a Hutu extremist, was arrested in October 2008.

Paris, which continues to hold a significant influence in African soil, was a strong supporter of the then Hutu regime, which spearheaded the massacre.

Although the Rwandan genocide trials had taken place in other countries, such as the US, Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Norway, but never in France.

"France played a bad role in this genocide. It didn't allow justice to do its job, and investigate correctly, or bring to justice those responsible who had fled to France," Bernard Kouchner, a former aid activist in Rwanda who later went on to become French foreign minister, told Associated Press.

Who is Captain Pascal Simbikangwa?

Simbikangwa was born in the northwestern Rwandan town of Rambura in 1959 and he is believed to be a relative of former Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana, with whom France had close ties.

Simbikangwa was a key intelligence officer who served in Habyarimana's regime monitoring the activities of Tutsi community in the country.

Simbikangwa retained his anti-Tutsi sentiments which were evident from his chilling activities as a spy chief.

Simbikangwa was one of the brains behind the Radio Mille Collines, which was primarily used to broadcast messages against Tutsi and encourage their slaughter.

As soon as the Hutu regime was ousted in 1994 by the Tutsi rebels, Simbikangwa fled the country with his family to the Democratic Republic of Congo before wading into Kenya and Cameroon.

He is believed to have entered in the French territory of Mayotte in 2005 but was apprehended by authorities in 2008 for possession of fake documents to support his travel. Simbikangwa was initially charged for posessing illegal papers.

French authorities were able to establish his true identity and it emerged that he was wanted by Interpol for "crimes against humanity, genocide and organised crime".

In April 2009, he was indicted for genocide and organised crime related to the 1994 killings. Simbikangwa was then transferred to the French detention centre of Saint-Denis on the island of Reunion.

His formal trial which begins on 4 February is expected to continue through March.