France says archives of former president Francois Mitterrand will help understand its role in 1994 Rwanda genocide, after a recent report concluded Paris owes responsibility on massacres of some 800,000 people.

President Paul Kagame and first lady Jeanette Kagame light Rwandan genocide flame of hope, known as
President Paul Kagame and first lady Jeanette Kagame light Rwandan genocide flame of hope, known as "Kwibuka" (Remembering), to commemorate 1994 Genocide, in Kigali, Rwanda on April 7, 2021. (Reuters)

France will open the Rwanda archives of former French president Francois Mitterrand, President Emmanuel Macron's office has said, as Kigali commemorated the 27th anniversary of genocide of the mainly Tutsi minority. 

Macron's office said on Wednesday the decision to make the 1990-94 archives freely accessible aims at creating the conditions to understand the role of France in Rwanda.

"France joins the Rwandan people to commemorate the genocide of the Tutsis and expresses on this day of remembrance its compassion and solidarity towards those who escaped and towards the families of the victims," the statement said.

On Wednesday, the 27th anniversary of the start of the slaughter — an event that still casts a shadow over France — was marked by Rwandans within the confines of their homes due to the pandemic restrictions.

READ MORE: 'Blind' France owes responsibility on Rwanda genocide

'France involved with regime that encouraged racist massacres'

Macron's decision comes after a report last month by historians that said France bears overwhelming responsibilities over the 1994 genocide and Paris was "blind" to preparations for the massacres.

The report, however, said there was no evidence Paris was complicit in the killings.

France's Mitterrand and his close aides knew a genocide against Tutsi was being planned by their allies, said Rwanda President Paul Kagame, citing a recent report, on Wednesday. 

The report, handed by French historians to President Macron last month, "marks an important step toward a common understanding of what took place," Kagame said in Kigali.

"It also marks the change, it shows the desire, even for leaders in France, to move forward with a good understanding of what happened," said Kagame.

The historical commission set up by Macron concluded there had been a "failure" on the part of France under former leader Mitterrand over the genocide that saw around 800,000 people slaughtered, mainly from the ethnic Tutsi minority.

Historian Vincent Duclert, who headed the commission, handed over the damning report to Macron at the Elysee Palace after years of accusations France did not do enough to halt the genocide and was even complicit in the crimes.

The genocide between April and July of 1994 began after Rwanda's Hutu president Juvenal Habyarimana, with whom Paris had cultivated close ties, was killed when his plane was shot down over Kigali on April 6.

"Nevertheless, for a long time, France was involved with a regime that encouraged racist massacres ... It remained blind to the preparation of a genocide by the most radical elements of this regime," the report said.

It criticised the French authorities under Mitterrand for adopting a "binary view" that set Habyarimana as a "Hutu ally" against an "enemy" of Tutsi forces backed by Uganda and then offering military intervention only "belatedly" when it was too late to halt the genocide.

READ MORE: Diplomatic cable reveals direct French role in Rwandan genocide

France helped genocide suspects 

Macron ordered the creation of the commission in May 2019 to analyse France's role in Rwanda from 1990-1994 through archival research.

France notably led Operation Turquoise, a military-humanitarian intervention launched by Paris under a UN mandate between June and August 1994. Its critics believe that it was in reality aimed at supporting the genocidal Hutu government.

And there have also been repeated accusations that authorities in Paris helped suspects in the Rwanda genocide to escape while under French military protection.

The report concluded that in July 1994 "murderers but also the masterminds of the genocide" were in a safe zone established by French forces in the west of the country "who the French political authorities refused to arrest."

READ MORE: It’s time to accept: the West failed Rwanda during genocide

Source: TRTWorld and agencies