The Paris Court of Appeal in France last week ordered a probe into the complicity or inaction of French troops who were deployed in Rwanda in 1994, in the massacre of Tutsi in the former Bisesero area in south-west Rwanda where they operated.
The French troops were at the height of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, deployed to Rwanda as part of what was then called ‘Operation Tourqouise’ ostensibly a humanitarian mission, but ended up abetting the very killings that they had come to stop.
At least 50,000 people were killed in Bisesero, which is part of what was then called Kibuye Prefecture and according to witness accounts, the French soldiers did more than play observer status.
From accounts gathered during a commission of enquiry that was established by the government to probe the role of France in the Genocide against the Tutsi, the French soldiers for instance played a role by convincing the Tutsi to come out of their hiding, promising them protection. When they came out, they handed them to the Interahamwe and ex-government soldiers who killed them.
The Tutsi in Bisesero stood out during the Genocide for staging a resistance against the marauding killers using traditional weapons like bows and arrows and rocks that they pelted their attackers. They were among the last to be killed in the country.
This probe ordered by the French court, which albeit comes late – nearly 30 years after the Genocide – is a welcome development and could potentially be an opportunity for the French citizens to get to know the acts of their soldiers.
For the people of Rwanda, and Genocide survivors in particular, Operation Tourqouise did not protect Tutsi, instead it offered an escape corridor for the killers as they fled the country to the Democratic Republic of Congo where they continued to nurse their agenda.
The probe should not limit itself to the massacres in Bisesero but the entire region where the French were deployed during the Genocide against the Tutsi. For instance, in Murambi also in south western Rwanda, where photos taken during the Genocide of French soldiers playing volleyball on a fresh mass grave where Tutsi had been dumped.
Located in Ngororero District, Murambi, a former technical school was also a killing ground for over 50,000 Tutsi who had fled neighbouring areas to seek refuge at the school.
It is also important that whoever will carry out the probe does so as soon as possible. Time is of essence because after 30 years, many witnesses are getting older and may not be around for long.