The Guardian: France was intimately involved with the extremist Hutu regime

In a few terrible months in 1994, up to 1 million people were killed in Rwanda in a planned political campaign. The preparation for mass killing on a countrywide scale took three years and involved a conspiracy that embraced the country's political, military and administrative leadership.

In a campaign relentless in its incitement to hatred and violence, the conspirators set out to destroy the minority Tutsi as a people in order to create a "pure Hutu state".

The failure to act in Rwanda is one of the greatest scandals of the 20th century. But while in the past 10 years attention has focused on a lack of intervention when the genocide began, there has been little scrutiny of the interference of states in Rwanda's affairs in the years immediately beforehand - intervention that can be shown to have positively encouraged the extremists who were plotting the killing.

One of the most fateful errors was the decision in October 1993 by the UN security council to send a small peacekeeping mission to Rwanda and keep it there in an increasingly hostile environment without reinforcements. The UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda, established to monitor the country's transition from dictatorship to democracy, was, with its weak mandate and minimal capacity, suitable for only the most benign environment. This feeble effort signalled to the conspirators that they had little to fear from the outside world.

The peace agreement that the peacekeepers came to monitor had been greeted with great fanfare when it was concluded in Arusha, Tanzania, in August 1993. It was the result of a conflict-resolution process sponsored internationally by the then Organisation of African Unity, Belgium (the former colonial power), France (intimately involved with the extremist regime in Rwanda) and the US. The Arusha Accords provided for an end to the ethnic divisions and a government of national unity between the minority Tutsi and majority Hutu.

It was a comprehensive settlement, ending a three-year civil war between a rebel army - the mainly Tutsi RPF - and the Hutu government in Rwanda. The RPF was created to enforce the return of some 1 million Tutsi refugees expelled from Rwanda during pogroms dating back to 1959. But this was little more than a short-lived truce. The conspirators in the capital, Kigali - adherents of the ideology known as Hutu Power - considered it a sellout imposed by interfering outsiders.

However, the continuing human rights abuses in Rwanda were of little concern in the security council, where the French, playing their own secret game, gave confidential assurances to council members that the parties in Rwanda were committed to peace. Representatives from the UK and the US were reluctant about the creation of a mission for Rwanda. There were simply too many UN operations - with 17 missions and 80,000 peacekeepers worldwide.

But arguments in favour of helping Rwanda were persuasive. How could the west encourage this poor, pathetic country to democratise and then turn its back? So a compromise was reached. A mission would be created for Rwanda, but it was to be as small as possible - and it was to be run on a shoe-string. The Belgians were the only European nation to provide peacekeepers for the mission but they were ill-disciplined and racist. It all went disastrously wrong.

No tragedy was ever heralded to less effect than the genocide in Rwanda. Despite press attention given to a cable outlining a genocide plot and sent by the commander of the UN peacekeepers on January 11 1994, it was just one of dozens of warnings. John Major's government was most definitely warned, because during the build-up to genocide, the violence, hate propaganda and militia increased in scope and power. In the weeks before the genocide, the Belgian ambassador to the UN tried desperately to persuade the permanent members of the security council that it was five minutes to midnight in Rwanda and that their mission urgently needed reinforcing and a stronger mandate. But the warnings were to no avail. The US and the UK were against a stronger mandate.

And so, 10 years ago, on April 6 1994, Rwanda's President Habyarimana was killed when two missiles brought down his presidential jet as it approached Kigali airport. The speed and organisation with which the mass killing started after this assassination suggest that it was a deliberate signal, but, though the prime suspects remain Hutu Power extremists, no inquiry has ever been held into who was responsible.

A French judge has been investigating the crash on behalf of the families of the three French crew who also died in it. His report has not been released, but extracts leaked to the newspaper Le Monde suggest that it is seriously flawed. Eyewitness accounts of the crash, for example, directly contradict the judge's assertion that although two missiles were fired, only one hit the plane.

The paper also claims that the judge found the Tutsi leader Paul Kagame responsible for the assassination, despite the fact that the killing was used by Hutu extremists to justify the genocide.

We may never know the truth. France was Rwanda's one great ally and the French must have known of the activities of the extremists - certainly in the army. France provided arms, soldiers, technical advice and expertise to the Rwandan military, even embedding French officers to work side by side with officers and known extremists. Just two weeks before the genocide began, French officers were still serving in the very units that were responsible for carrying out the elimination of the entire political opposition, touring Kigali at dawn with prepared lists. And they continued to intervene in support of the extremists during and, crucially, after the April 1994 massacres.

What we do know now is that a corrupt, vicious and violent oligarchy in Rwanda planned and perpetrated the crime of genocide, testing the UN each step of the way. It was convinced that whatever it did, the UN would fail to act. It would also seem that France's intimate involvement with the Hutu regime only worsened the situation.

Over the past decade, many have used the experience of Rwanda to justify foreign intervention. However, it is not the case that foreign powers were absent, but rather that their involvement was entirely limited to serving their own ends. It is this aspect - what took place before the genocide started - that needs careful and considered scrutiny. There is too much that we do not know about how such disastrous policies were formulated and the information upon which they were based.

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