French army officials have denied allegations that troops active in Rwanda in 1994 failed to prevent the killings of some Tutsis during the genocide. The army said troops deployed in June 1994 as part of the Operaiton Turquoise – aimed at protecting Rwandan civilians – saved "tens of thousands of Tutsi lives".
What sparked the Rwanda genocide?
Tensions between Hutus and Tutsis ethnic groups started with the Belgian colonisation in 1922. The colonisers supported the Tutsi political power and exacerbated ethnic differences between Hutus and Tutssi by introducing the compulsory use of identity cards.
After a Hutu revolution led to the 1962 declaration of independence and the establishment of the Rwanda republic, led by the MDR-Parmehutu, the country was rocked by sporadic violence between the Hutu government and Tutsi rebels.
In 1990 the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), formed by Tutsi refugees who had fled along with their families to Uganda due to ethnic violence in the previous years, invaded Rwanda, starting the Rwanda civil war.
The conflict lasted until 1994, when the genocide against the Tutsis was sparked after suspicions spread that the Tutsis had carried out an attack against the then Hutu president Juvénal Habyarimana, who died together with Burundi's President Cyprien Ntaryamira in a plane crash on 6 April 1994 .
The comments were made as the International Federation of Human Rights and two other groups claimed earlier in December that they were in possession of a fax from June 1994 that showed French soldiers had been informed that about 2,000 Tutsis were at risk of being killed in the Bisesero hills and that the intervention of the French army was needed. The groups alleged the French troops did not intervene and the Tutsi were killed.
The groups are demanding French authorities include the document in a judicial investigation into the role of French troops in Rwanda that began after genocide survivors filed a case in 2005. The groups are also demanding that officers Jacques Rosier and Marin Gillier – commander of special forces and head of a squad of marines during Operation Turquoise – be indicted over the Biserero killings.
According to genocide survivors interviewed by France 24, French troops promised they would protect Tutsis in the Biserero hills, but failed to do so for three days in which hundreds were killed. However, the two officers said the accusations are "monstrous" and maintained they are willing to testify in the inquiry to stop such allegations.
Rwanda's Paul Kagame claims France helped with the massacres
Rwanda's President Paul Kagame has always claimed France had a direct role in the killings of Tutsis and moderate Hutus. In 1994, Kagame was the head of the armed wing of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), formed in 1987 by Tutsi refugees in Uganda and now Rwanda's ruling party. The RPF fought against Hutu extremists and took control of the country in July 2014, putting an end to the genocide.
Kagame became president of Rwanda in 2000 and relations between the African nation and France have been deteriorating since. In 2008, Rwanda released a report accusing French forces of taking part in the killings of Tutsis, and Hutus who hid Tutsis. French troops were also accused of raping Rwandan women. France has always denied the accusations and maintained its troops were deployed to protect civilians.