France and Rwanda agreed to restore diplomatic relations after a three-year break yesterday, straight after the central African nation finally joined the Commonwealth bloc and moved into the Anglophone sphere.
Relations between France and the former Belgian colony had been soured by accusations and recriminations over the role each side played in the 1994 genocide that killed 800 000 Rwandans.
The Tutsi-led government of President Paul Kagame had accused France of siding with the Hutus behind the massacres.
A French judge said Kagame and others had been involved in killing the former president the trigger for the slaughter, and a charge Rwanda strongly denies.
Claude Gueant, chief of staff at the French presidency, met Kagame yesterday to resume ties and France said it was time to turn the page on the past.
"Rwanda has a big role to play in this region in development and security and it is also an example of good governance in the whole of Africa. For this reason, France has decided to support Rwanda," he said.
Rwanda has a major influence on the east of Democratic Republic of Congo, where ethnic militias have been battling for years, partly over control of mineral resources.
Over the past few years Rwanda, has been pushing hard to join the Commonwealth a predominantly Anglophone bloc which aims to promote good governance and trade. It includes Rwanda’s bigger east African neighbours Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.
Britain is also one of Rwanda’s main donors and the country is seen as an attractive investment destination given its stable government and growth potential.
Rwanda has made English the third official language alongside French and Kinyarwanda.
Rwanda’s accession to the Commonwealth had been widely anticipated, despite objections voiced by some human rights groups that questioned whether the country met the required standards of political freedom and human rights.
Rwanda and Mozambique are the only Commonwealth nations that were not once part of the British Empire or constitutionally linked to one of its members.
Foreign Minister Rosemary Museminali announced the renewal of ties with Paris speaking in English just hours after the country was admitted to the bloc. "(This) is a culmination of the discussions we have had and we believe is the beginning of building newer, stronger and better relations than we’ve had," she said.
The Kigali administration forged close ties with France during Francois Mitterand’s presidency. Paris is now planning to appoint an envoy to Rwanda in the next two weeks.
"These two countries, which bring together at once so many misunderstandings, common culture and shared hopes, will resume their march in solidarity," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said in a statement.
"The 1994 genocide will remain in our memories. France will forget none of its victims."