Paul Kagame, Rwanda‘s president, whose Tutsi government came to power after the genocide, has accused France of training and arming Hutu militias who led a 100-day campaign that killed 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
Jean Paul Kimonyo, a member of the commission, said: “We will summon people like former militiamen who were trained and commanded by the French to kill as well as female survivors who accuse some French soldiers of rape.
“We are also going to invite foreign witnesses including French nationals to testify before the commission.”
When Kagame’s Tutsi-dominated rebel army launched its war against the Hutu authorities in the early 1990s, France sent soldiers to Kigali, Rwanda’s capital.
France helped stop the advance of Kagame’s forces and then stayed on, as military advisers, up to the start of the genocide.
Kigali says France backed the government of Juvenal Habyarimana, Rwanda‘s former president. It also alleges France provided military training for government forces in the knowledge that some within the leadership were planning to use the troops to commit genocide.
France, which sent in soldiers under a UN authorised operation, has always denied any involvement in the killings.
“I wonder whether these French officials were prophets or indeed were part of the planning process”
Jacques Bihozagara, former Rwandan ambassador to France
Officials said a seven-man commission, appointed by the government in April, will hear testimony from 20 witnesses over the next week. The testimony could be used as evidence in any legal action taken by Kigali against France.
A French parliamentary commission in 1998 cleared France of responsibility for the genocide but said “strategic errors” had been made.
Jacques Bihozagara, a former Rwandan ambassador to France, told the commission: “The French sent troops, weapons, trained killers and manned roadblocks to facilitate murderers in achieving their mission of exterminating Tutsis.”
Bihozagara, who was part of the rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front, said French officials had warned the group to stop its fight against the Hutu authorities.
“You will reach Kigali to only find all your relatives perished,” Bihozagara quoted them as saying.
“I wonder whether these French officials were prophets or indeed were part of the planning process,” he said.
Chaired by Jean de Dieu Mucyo, Rwanda‘s former justice minister, the panel consists of legal experts, historians and a former army commander.
Justice for many perpetrators in the genocide is still being meted out through the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Tanzania and village courts.
The ICTR has indicted more than 80 people for genocide-related crimes since its establishment in 1994.