Author-card of document number 21018

Field Value
Date Tuesday May 3, 1994
Author Smyth, Frank
Url RwandasFrenchConnection3May1994.pdf
TitleRwanda's French Connection
Quoted personCussac, Bernard
Quoted personNsengiyaremye, Dismas
Quoted personNzabagerageza, Charles
Quoted personNsabimana, Deogratias
Quoted personClaes, Willy
Quoted personKabia, Abdul
Quoted personMusangamfura, Sixbert
Keywordfourniture d'armes
Newspaper/SourceThe Village Voice
Public records 
CitationWe have 8 million people here, an aid worker told me last June in
Rwanda, and all you Americans care about are those damn gorillas.

I was in Rwanda investigating weapons trafficking for the Human Rights
Watch/Arms Project, but I couldn't argue with the man, a Tutsi. Almost
the only news reaching the West last year from this small, landlocked
Central Africa republic was the death of Mrithi, a male silverback
gorilla shot by a frightened soldier. One of 325 mountain gorillas in
Rwanda, Mrithi was mourned in a New York Times op-ed by Rutgers
University anthropologist Dr. H. Dieter Steklis. He succeeded Dian
Fossey, the champion of the apes portrayed by Sigourney Weaver in
Gorillas in the Mist. Apart from his brave Rwandan staff, Steklis made
no mention of the country's people. At the time, 1 million of them were
displaced from Northern Rwanda by the same fighting that killed Mrithi.

Last month, Rwanda's people finally got the world's attention, though
accomplishing this took the fastest slaughter in memory, as many as
200,000 slain in a month. On April 27, Pope John Paul protested the
killing as genocide. Most of the dead are Tutsi, a minority in a nation
run by a small group of Hutu men. Government forces loyal to these Hutu
men have also targeted and killed their Hutu political opponents,
including spouses and children.

Since 1975, Rwanda's Hutu regime has been a formal military ally of
France, a relationship that has continued despite the April 6 apparent
assassination of President jJuvenal Habyarimana. On April 27, the same
day the Vatican issued its moral plea, two top officials from Rwanda's
newly declared government were received by the French foreign ministry.
The next day, they were received at the Elysee, the presidential palace.

Rwanda's dictators have long been welcome in Paris. One of President
Habyarimana's closest friends abroad was French president Francois
Mitterrand, an interventionist throughout Francophone Africa. It has
been reported from Kigali that their sons, Christophe Mitterrand and
Jean-Pierre Habyarimana, have caroused together in discos on the Left
Bank and in Rwanda at the Kigali Nightclub. At the Elysee, Christophe
had been his father's special assistant on African affairs.

While it is unknown if President Mitterrand actually met with Rwanda's
new leaders in the palace, he did receive a January 25 letter from the
Human Rights Watch/Arms Project that identified France as the major
military supporter of the government of Rwanda.... providing combat
assistance to a Rwandan army guilty of widespread human rights abuses,
and failing to pressure the Rwandan government to curb human rights
Mitterrand has yet to respond.

The letter details Rwanda's purchase of $6 million in arms from Egypt,
with the bill still unpaid. France guaranteed the payment for this March
1992 contract, which included 70 mortars, 16,200 mortar bombs, 2000 land
mines, 2000 rocket-propelled grenades, plastic explosives, 450 automatic
rifles, and more than 1 million rounds of ammunition. That's merely a
single transaction. In addition, France has provided troops, advisers,
and other weapons.

Rwanda is one of 14 Francophone African nations, almost all of which
have military pacts with France. With few resources and less industry,
the country's direct foreign investment is near zero. But like the
United States allying with anticommunist states during the Cold War,
France has allied with Francophone nations. Some, like Zaire, with 60
per cent of the world's cobalt, are of economic value. But all of them,
as a bloc, give France command of enough votes in the United Nations to
enjoy the pretense of being a world power.

Like neighboring Burundi to the south, Rwanda was a Belgian protectorate
until independence in 1962. Before then, the Tutsi dominated Rwanda from
the 17th century until 1960. The king, nobles, military commanders, and,
especially, cattle herders were predominantly Tutsi. Most people among
the remainder were Hutu subsistence farmers. Although they have distinct
characteristics, Tutsi and Hutu are about as hard to tell apart as
northern and southern Italians. Similar to northerners there, Tutsi have
generally considered themselves superior.

In 1990, Tutsi guerrillas of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), many of
them English-speaking, invaded Rwanda from English-speaking Uganda to
the north. Belgium stayed relatively neutral, providing only nonlethal
military aid to Rwanda. But France rushed in to defend the
French-speaking Hutu regime, led by President Habyarimana and a group of
men known as the Akazu or Little House. Over the next, three years,
militant Hutu forces loyal them murdered up to 2000 Tutsi civilians.
Although these abuses were documented by an international commission
composed of Human Rights Watch/Africa and three Francophone monitoring
organizations, France continued to defend Rwanda's regime.

Are you saying that the providing of military assistance is a human
rights violation?
asked Colonel Cussac, his palm slamming his desk for
emphasis. (The colonel, interviewed last June, wouldn't provide his
first name.) Noting that I am an American, the Colonel added, France
and the United States have a common history, for example, in Vietnam.

More recent cases of intervention are also similar. France formally
supported negotiations between Rwanda's Hutu government and Tutsi
guerrillas in the 1990s, much as the United States allegedly backed
negotiations in the 1980s between El Salvador's government and the
guerrillas. But representatives of all the non-French Western diplomatic
missions in Kigali said that France sought a clear victory for President
Habyarimana and the Little House. Cussac is a man in favor of a
military solution,
said one European chief-of-mission. They continue
to defend and sustain the regime.

But on April 12, France closed its embassy in Kigali and its military
assistance mission. Having armed the government and the party-led
militias, who are most responsible for the massacres, France fled (as
did most of the 2 500 United Nations troops), leaving behind a bloodbath,
which also renewed the war between the Hutu government and Tutsi rebels.
Even more astonishing, the French government has hardly said a word
about a country whose fate it largely shaped. While the U.S. State
Department studies the historic outbreak of savagery in Rwanda and the
Vatican charges genocide, France keeps silent.

Last year, French soldiers manned check-points around Kigali. While some
were armed with WASP 58 shoulder-fired rocket launchers, others demanded
passing Rwandans to present their apartheid-like identification cards.
The IDs were stamped Hutu (85 per cent of the population), Tutsi, or Twa
(hunters and potters, about 1 per cent of the population).

Inside Kigali checkpoints were manned by Rwandan army soldiers. Aside
from the capital's few taxis, most vehicles on the streets were army
jeeps, French armored vehicles, and Land Cruisers belonging to foreign
relief organizations. Getting a job with one of them, becoming a
military officer, or being a friend or collaborator of President
Habyarimana or the Little House were the main paths of advancement.

Photos of Habyarimana, by law, had been posted everywhere, even in the
relief organizations. But when I arrived last summer, many portraits had
been taken down. Rwanda's political space was finally opening to Hutu
opposition parties, and the Tutsi guerrillas were respecting the
cease-fire. Yet Hutu opposition leaders were also being assassinated.
While French and Rwandan officials alike blamed the RPF for these
political killings, and other diplomats and surviving Hutu opposition
leaders suspected the Little House.

Shadow groups are behind the violence, said Dr. Dismas Nsengiyaremye,
one of several opposition party leaders. Take the example of the mafia.
Their chief may recruit from churches, the government, or private
companies which allow him to conduct criminal activities without being
seen. Here, the shadow groups are able to build connections to carry out
criminal activities with impunity.

Last June. Charles Nzabagerageza, a government minister who admitted to
being a member of the Little House, denied any government responsibility
for the Escadrons de la Mort (death squads), as they became known: [The
accusations are] the result of whimsical minds, fabricated by a
newspaper, and inspired by certain political groups for purposes which
are political.

My month-long visit to Rwanda left me with images that recur in dreams.
On a Sunday visit to a military hospital, for example, I saw two
soldiers who had been wounded the week before. One suffered an open
femur fracture and gangrene. The other's blood was soaking through old
gauze wrapped around his stomach. I asked a recovering one-legged
soldier, Why aren't these men being treated?

Oh. he said. The doctors don't work weekends.

On another day, Colonel Deogratias Nsabimana, who died with President
Habyarimana in the April 6 plane crash, waved a stack of letters from
Amnesty International activists at me. He wanted to know why he kept
getting all these letters, worrying about prisoners of conscience in
Rwanda's jails. Despite his bewilderment, Colonel Nsabimana struck me as
a serious military professional. There were some moderate officers in
the Rwandan army.

Regardless, soldiers under them have long been notorious for their
banditry. An American relief organization director told me that he was
uncomfortable placing Western staff women near bases. Consisting of 5 000
soldiers in 1990, before France financed its expansion, the Rwandan army
had grown to more than 30,000 men. While weakly trained, some troops
were armed with Egyptian-made Kalashnikov AKM automatic rifles and
superior South African R-4 automatic rifles.

Over the same period, the RPF grew from 7 000 to perhaps 15,000
guerrillas. Many carry Romanian Kalashnikovs and wear East German
rain-pattern-camouflage uniforms. While many weapons were bought on the
open market, Uganda donated to the RPF most of its other arms, including
Soviet-made Katyusha multiple rocket launchers; landing in succession
about 10 yards apart in fewer than five seconds per volley, their
rockets spread shrapnel over an area wider and longer than a football

At their base camp near Mulindi in northern Rwanda during last year's
cease-fire, I saw RPF guerrillas marching shirtless and singing Tutsi
folk and war songs. They appeared to be a well-trained and highly
motivated resistance movement. Some of their fighters and most of their
leaders spoke English. Most came from refugee families who had fled
Rwanda before its independence in 1962, when an earlier wave of Hutu
attacks had killed 20,000 Tutsi and driven at least 150,000 to
neighboring countries. Today, about 200,000 of them and their
descendants live in Uganda. They have competed -- sometimes violently --
with its citizens, and suffered under both dictators Idi Amin and A.
Milton Obote.

But in 1986, a guerrilla army led by a defected defense minister named
Yoweri Museveni overthrew Uganda's, govemment. About 2,000 Rwandan Tutsi,
including Paul Kagame, fought with him. Museveni later put Kagame in
charge of Ugandan military intelligence. In October 1990, more than half
of the RPF's invasion force, most of its weapons, and nearly all its
leaders came directly out of the Ugandan army. President Museveni claims
-- still -- that the deserters stole all the weapons they took with
them. Kagame is currently the RPF top commander. At the RPF in Mulindi,
Toni (his nom de guerre), an educated 30-year-old man with high
cheekbones and a very soft manner of speaking, was the intelligence
officer appointed to debrief me. Although soldiers served and saluted
him, he claimed to be just another faithful recruit: [What we] want is
not necessarily to go back to [Rwanda], but to have a sense of national
identity, to have citizenship, and the protection of the Rwandan
That may be true for Toni. But many RPF guerrillas told me that
they and their families want immediate repatriation.

The renewal of Rwanda's conflict came when the prospect for peace never
seemed better: President Habyarimana had signed a peace accord with RPF
leaders, and he had agreed to divide cabinet posts equally among them,
the Hutu opposition, and the Little House. The Little House had never
before shared power. Its members had created the Presidential Guard and
ruling party militias.

Shortly after President Habyarimana was killed in his plane as it
approached Kigali airport April 6, Little House officials declared
themselves in charge. While some of them have said that Tutsi RPF
guerrillas shot down the president's plane, the RTLM radio station the
Little House controls said Belgian peacekeepers fired a rocket that
brought the plane down. The assassination provoked a popular uprising,
the Little House maintains.

Belgium's foreign minister, William Claes, however, said Hutu extremists
assassinated the president in a palace coup. Belgian troops reported
seeing a rocket fired from the direction of the Kanombe army base just
east of the airport; further east are the headquarters of the
Presidential Guard. Within minutes of the crash, armed militia loyal to
the Little House set up roadblocks in Kigali. Hours later, officials
from Belgium and elsewhere said, Presidential Guard units killed three
opposition party cabinet members, including then interim prime minister
Agathe Uwilingiyimana. She was murdered with 10 Belgian peacekeepers who
had tried to save her.

For months, RTLM announcers had been inciting Hutu militiamen against
Tutsi: The grave is only half-full. Who is going to fill it up? Since
the president's assassination, RTLM has been calling on militias to
step up the killing of civilians,
according to UN spokesman Abdul Kabia
in Kigali. Three weeks after the killings began, RTLM radio announced
that Thursday, May 5 (when President Habyarimana was scheduled to be
buried), would be the target date to finish the clean-up of Tutsi.

When it comes to horror, this is one of the worst situations we have
ever seen,
said Tony Burgener, spokesman for the International Committee
of the Red Cross in Geneva. (For diplomatic reasons, ICRC officials
rarely comment on the record.) When the slaughter of the Hutu opposition
and Tutsi families began, the main body of Rwandan army forces did not
necessarily join in. Broadcast from Kigali, the army's radio said that
angry soldiers had engaged in shameful criminal acts. But expecting
an RPF offensive, commanding officers failed to stop anyone from killing

When the bloodletting began, an RPF force of about 600 men was camped
out in Kigali. The main body force of RPF fighters was still in and
around Mulindi, 32 miles north. They began marching south. Destroying
army positions along the way, they reached Kigali within five days. That
day, April 11, French officials said they had no plans to leave. But the
next day after the RPF began attacking Kigali, the French left.

Departing, French Legionnaire advisers predicted the government's fall,
as did American intelligence experts. But while Tutsi RPF guerrillas
secured the north central corridor from Uganda to Kigali, Hutu
militiamen and their mobs' spread south, west, and east, killing more
Tutsi families. Rather than then seizing control of a Kigali stacked
with corpses, the RPF declared a cease-fire, albeit short-lived since it
was contingent on the government stopping the killings. But in doing so,
RPF commander Kagame wanted to show the world that his force was
disciplined and obedient. Since then, some RPF guerrillas have fought
the army, while the rest have pursued the militias.

The RPF now controls at least half the country, and the fighting is
fiercer than ever, especially in and around Kigali.

Although I lived in Kigali for a month last year, I find it difficult to
imagine the current violence. But I still can clearly picture certain
people. One is journalist Sixbert Musangamfura, the editor of Isibo, a
weekly newspaper. During an RPF offensive last year the Rwandan army
confiscated a Mercedes-Benz truck with Ugandan license plates. Uganda
denied, and still denies, supporting the RPF. Although a Tutsi, like the
RPF rebels, Sixbert confirmed the Rwandan army's account: By doing so,
he helped France and Rwanda find a smoking gun, confirming their claim
that Uganda supported the RPF. Nonetheless, after April 6, French-backed
Hutu forces killed Sixbert, probably for being Tutsi. Among the dozen
Rwandans whose cards are in my Rolodex, only two are known to be alive.

Copyright 1994 Frank Smyth
French translation 
TypeArticle de journal
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