December 1, 2015 / 5:47 PM / 4 years ago

Rights groups press for French army probe on Rwanda genocide

PARIS (Reuters) - Human rights groups are demanding that French soldiers active in Rwanda in 1994 be formally put under investigation on suspicion of complicity in the genocide at that time.

More than 800,000 minority Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus were killed in a three-month rampage by ethnic Hutu extremists in 1994 while the world largely stood by.

France, an ally of the Rwandan government that ruled before the genocide, stayed away from last year’s 20-year commemoration after rebel-turned-president Paul Kagame renewed accusations of a direct French role in the killings.

In the latest chapter of a long-running French investigation into the mass killing, the rights groups say they have documents showing the French army in late-June 1994 abandoned hundreds of Tutsis who were slain days later in the hills of Bisesero in western Rwanda.

The appeal came from the International Federation of Human Rights and other rights organisations.

One of their main arguments is that they have a fax from the time - a critical period from June 27-30, 1994, - that contradicts statements by certain army officers that they had not been informed that a large group of Tutsis was at risk in a specific area nearby.

The fax from another army officer, part of documents that were recently declassified, showed, to the contrary, that he had raised the alarm, saying about 2,000 Tutsis were holed up in dire conditions in a wooded area and urgently requesting French protection.

“Certain elements of the French special forces with a clear mandate to halt the massacres were stationed about 5 km as the crow flies from the crime scene with all the information, communications and equipment needed to mount a life-saving operation instantly,” the rights groups said in a statement. “That did not happen”.”

The groups are requesting that a French judicial inquiry that started 10 years ago take account of their demand and press harder to establish the chain of command and responsibility in the French military in the region at the time.

The defence ministry did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment.

Reporting by Gerard Bon; Writing by Brian Love; Editing by Alison Williams

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