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Tue Dec 06 10:19:33 CAT 2016

French general testifies in Rwanda massacre probe

AFP | 2016-02-07 13:31:57.0
A Rwandan caretaker examines a display of human skulls on June 16, 2002, the remains of some of 5,000 ethnic Tutsis massacred in the Ntarama Church compound in April 1994, during Rwanda's genocide. [Hutu extremists killed an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda in the 100 days from April to June 1994. Around 115,000 suspected killers are currently behind bars awaiting trial, and Rwanda this week relaunches a traditional court system to try and deal with the backlog of unheard cases.
Image by: Antony Njuguna / Reuters

A French general has testified for the first time in a probe into the role of French forces during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, sources close to the case said Sunday.

General Jean-Claude Lafourcade was questioned in particular over claims that France's UN-mandated Operation Turquoise, which he led, left ethnic Tutsis to be slaughtered by Hutu killers in the western Bisesero hills in June 1994, the sources said.

French soldiers had been deployed in Rwanda a few days earlier under UN instructions to stop the genocide that had begun in April, and which three months later had left at least 800,000 people dead, most of them Tutsis.

In 2005 survivors filed a complaint in France, saying the French troops had on June 27 vowed to return to Bisesero, but when they came back three days later, it was too late for hundreds of Tutsis who were massacred.

Lafourcade, who appeared as an "assisted witness" -- meaning he has not been charged but can be summoned for questioning at any time -- again refuted the accusations during lengthy hearings on January 12 and 14, the sources said.

The retired general, now 72, also dismissed as "completely false" allegations that French soldiers supplied arms to the Hutu extremists.

His lawyer Pierre-Olivier Lambert told AFP that Lafourcade was "very glad to have finally been able to testify before the French justice system as he has been asking to do for many years."

Rwandan President Paul Kagame has accused Paris of complicity in the genocide because of its support of the Hutu nationalist government that carried out the mass slaughter.

Paris has repeatedly denied the accusations and insists that French forces had worked to protect civilians. Bilateral relations, completely frozen from 2006 to 2009, remain tense.

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