PARIS (Reuters) – Investigative magistrates in France have dropped charges against nine Rwandan officials investigated over the death of the country’s president in 1994, an event that triggered a genocide that killed more than 800,000 people, a judicial source said.
France launched the investigation, which also targeted Rwanda’s former defense minister James Kabarebe, in 1998 following demands by relatives of the French crew who died when president Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane was downed near Kigali airport by rockets. Burundi’s president at the time, Cyprien Ntaryamira, also died in the plane crash.
The opening of the judicial process against Rwandan government officials, and accusations by the current Rwandan administration that France was complicit in the 1994 genocide, damaged relations between the two countries for several years.
Investigators in Rwanda and elsewhere have been unable to determine whether the rockets that brought down the president’s plane were fired by people close to the Rwandan regime at the time or by the opposition Rwandan Patriotic Front who put an end to the genocide and took power.
Philippe Meilhac, the lawyer representing Habyarimana’s widow and other victims’ relatives, said he had appealed the decision to shelve the investigation.
The judicial source said on Wednesday that the charges were dropped on Dec. 21. A French prosecutor had recommended in October that the charges be dismissed due to insufficient evidence.
Meilhac said that, on the contrary, enough evidence had been gathered to justify the opening of a criminal trial.
Emmanuel Bidanda, the lawyer for the French crew members who died in the assassination, said he was also considering appealing the decision.
Rwanda said on Dec. 24 that it welcomed the end of what it called a politically motivated investigation.
Reporting by Myriam Rivet; Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by Robin Pomeroy, Inti Landauro