January 11, 2012 / 5:48 PM / in 6 years

INTERVIEW-Rwanda: French genocide report could boost trade

* Rwanda welcomes French report absolving Kagame

* Rwanda see better relations, trade with France

By By Graham Holliday

KIGALI, Jan 11 (Reuters) - Rwanda said on Wednesday a French investigation that reportedly cleared President Paul Kagame of sparking the 1994 Rwandan genocide would help repair relations between the two countries and could boost trade.

Rwanda cut diplomatic links with France in 2006 when a French judge said Kagame, then a Tutsi rebel leader, had ordered the downing of a plane carrying Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana - the act that triggered the country’s 100-day massacre.

A second investigation, led by two French judges, this week found the shots that hit the plane could not have come from a Kagame’s camp, lawyers linked to the probe told journalists in France on Tuesday.

Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo told Reuters Rwandan lawyers in France had relayed the findings of the report to Kigali.

“This a big issue in this country. Certainly, in terms of public perception the fact that there was a French judge who messed up. And now, there is another French judge who is working in a professional manner,” Mushikiwabo said in an interview.

“This is a small part of the repair that has to be done on the relationship, but it certainly helps.”

After Habyarimana’s plane was shot down, Hutu extremists slaughtered Tutsis and moderate Hutus in some of the fastest mass killings ever perpetrated.

Kagame’s Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front seized power in the aftermath of the genocide.

Paris began to normalise its relations with Rwanda after President Nicolas Sarkozy came to power in 2007.

Mushikiwabo said there might now be a chance to strengthen trade links further with France, but did not give details of other ways relations might improve.

“Whenever countries create an environment that has no tension, it’s good for business. I think individual businesses would feel more comfortable coming to Rwanda and that is something we did discuss at length during the President’s visit (to France) last September,” she said.

Rwanda released its own report into the plane crash in 2010, concluding that an extremist Hutu battalion had carried out the attack.

While relations with France have improved, Kagame has faced criticism for his government’s human right record from other Western powers.

In a speech in Kigali late last year, Washington’s Ambassador to the U.N. Sudan Rice accused the government of harassing its people and curbing press freedom.

Mushikiwabo said Rice’s comments were unhelpful. “Criticism which is subjective, out of the blue, is something we should live without,” she said. (Editing by Jacob Kuehn, George Obulutsa and Andrew Heavens)

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