By Rick Noack and Max Bearak,
Jean Bizimana Reuters
PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday acknowledged that France bears partial responsibility for the Rwandan genocide, in a historic acknowledgment that could mark a watershed moment in relations between the two countries.
Speaking at a memorial for the victims of the genocide in Kigali, the Rwandan capital, Macron said that France ignored warnings of a genocide in 1994, and that it bears “overwhelming responsibility in a spiral that ended in the worst.”
“Only those who went through that night can perhaps forgive,” Macron said Thursday.
But the French president maintained that the country had not been an accomplice to the ethnic Hutu extremists who slaughtered an estimated 800,000 people — most of them members of the Tutsi minority — in the 1994 killing spree that lasted around 100 days.
France and other Western powers failed to intervene and French relations with Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who was born into a Tutsi family, have been dominated by tensions.
In 2010, French President Nicolas Sarkozy became the country’s first leader to visit Rwanda following the genocide. Though Sarkozy acknowledged mistakes during his visit, Rwanda’s government maintained that France had yet to fully confront its role in the 1994 killings.
Macron in recent years devoted greater efforts to normalizing relations with Rwanda, and ordered an examination of France’s responsibility. A French report released earlier this year concluded that the country bore responsibilities for the 1994 events but was not complicit in the crimes. Some of the report’s contents were echoed by Macron on Thursday.
Kagame, who at the genocide’s height led the Rwandan Patriotic Front into Rwanda from Uganda and chased many of its perpetrators into Congo, still remains hugely popular in his country.
His decades in power, however, have been marked by a stifling of any opposition, often on grounds that dissenters are genocide-deniers or would-be instigators of another genocide.
An ongoing high-profile case against Paul Rusesabagina, the famed hero of the Hollywood film “Hotel Rwanda,” has resurfaced many of the post-genocide period’s grievances. Rusesabagina is accused by the government of financing rebels tied to genocide perpetrators and attempting to overthrow Kagame.
Bearak reported from Nairobi.