Macron seeks ‘forgiveness’
French President Emmanuel Macron yesterday recognised his country's role in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, as the two countries seek to turn the page on decades of diplomatic tensions over the bloodshed.
While Macron did not formally apologise, he highlighted how France had backed the genocidal Hutu regime of the time, ignored warnings of impending massacres and joined the world in abandoning some 800,000 mostly Tutsi Rwandans to a grisly fate.
"Standing here today, with humility and respect, by your side, I have come to recognise our responsibilities," Macron said in a speech at the Kigali Genocide Memorial.
He said that only those who had survived the horrors can "give us the gift of forgiveness".
Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who called Macron his "friend", heaped praise on the speech at a joint press conference after the two leaders met.
"His words were something more valuable than an apology. They were the truth," Kagame said.
"Speaking the truth is risky. But you do it because it is right, even when it costs you something, even when it is unpopular."
While some expressed regret that Macron did not apologise, the French president said it would not be appropriate to do so and that an apology is "not something I can give".
Macron is the first French leader since 2010 to visit the East African nation, which has long accused France of complicity in the killings.
Macron said France "was not complicit" in the genocide.
"But France has a role, a story and a political responsibility to Rwanda. She has a duty: to face history head-on and recognise the suffering she has inflicted on the Rwandan people by too long valuing silence over the examination of the truth."
Genocide survivor Jean de la Croix Ibambasi watched the speech live on television with his 20-year-old son, saying he appreciated the recognition of France's role, but that Macron could have gone further.
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.
Ibambasi said he recalled the French working at checkpoints helping the then army "distinguish between the Tutsis and the Hutus."
"We cannot forget that easily, we need to be honest, they have participated, they helped. It was time to say sorry, without going around it."