General Paul Kagame, the commander of the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) and the de facto leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front rebels is responsible for the assassination of late Rwandan President General Juvénal Habyarimana and Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira, their close aides and the French flight crew, General Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, former chief of staff of the RPA has lately testified in a sworn confidential statement in front of French prosecutors. The latest testimony has led to the reopening of a formal investigation, that had been suspended years ago, without much explanations. Presidents Habyarimana and Ntaryamira were assassinated on the
evening of 6 April 1994. Their assassination was the catalyst for unprecedented ethnically based massacres. At the and of the massacres, millions of Rwandans, from Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups were killed. The assassination and the massacres that followed set off a regional humanitarian catastrophe whose consequences are felt even today, 22 years later. One can safely say that the assassination of Juvenal Habyarimana and Cyprien Ntaryamira has led to more than 7 million deaths, based on estimates from the NGOs, experts and, most importantly, the United Nations, to date.
The French investigation, initiated following a case brought to court by the families of the French flight crew, has been on-going for more than 15 years, but was paralyzed in courts for unclear reasons, mostly, according to sources close to the case, due to diplomatic and political interference from French politicians. In some instances, French politicians, either bowing to pressure or to maintain their unexplained close relations with General Kagame's regime suspended or shelved investigations, without explanations. It is believed that that the current French government, known to have given a cold shoulder to General Paul Kagame and his aides, has taken the opportunity of the deposition from Gen Kagame’s former army chief, General Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, to heartedly reopen the case.
In 2006, an French inquiry led by Judge Bruguiere, concluded that the plane was shot down by Rwandan Patriotic Army and named both General Paul Kagame and General Kayumba Nyamwasa and 9 others top General Kagame's aides of having led the assassination and shooting down of the plane. General Kayumba has, on multiple occasions, denied any involvement in the assassination. Meanwhile, he was forced into exile after falling out with General Paul Kagame. He has survived several assassination attempts, organized by Rwandan intelligence operatives in South Africa, where he has sought refuge. In the latest attempt, on March 2, 2014, he was shot in the stomach near his residence. The assassination attempt led to a diplomatic row between South Africa and Rwandan Government. Since then, he has been under strict security provided by the South African Government.
The decision to reopen the case has provoked wrath from Gen Kagame, his close aides and his government. In a statement on Monday October 10, 2016, in front the military troops and officers and judicial officials, General Paul Kagame said that he is ready for a “showdown” with France, including a freeze in diplomatic relations and other unspecified measures, if the investigation does not stop.
With the case opened, General Nyamwasa will be asked to travel to France, to testify. However, the South African government may not allow, forcing the French prosecutors to find other venues.
According to sources close to the French prosecution, the latest testimony by General Kayumba is detailed and describes how General Paul Kagame himself briefed General Nyamwasa on how he had planned and executed the assassination and its objectives of torpedoing on-going peace negotiations and seizing the country by force.
The testimony and the reopening of the case may be a watershed moment for the relations between France and General Paul Kagame's regime. The decision to testify by General Kayumba Nyamwasa is also viewed by many Rwandans as a courageous and selfless act, especially after escaping many assassination attempts while in exile. Now, eyes are turned toward the French judicial system. Will it finally deliver justice to its own citizens and the widows and families of Presidents Habyarimana and Cyprien Ntaryamira and their closest aides, for their loves ones assassinated by General Paul Kagame or, as it happened before, is the French government going to bow to General Kagame's threats?