Habyarimana witness changes story

A key witness whose testimony backs up French charges that Tutsi guerrillas killed Rwanda’s ex-president Juvenal Habyarimana, triggering the 1994 genocide, has retracted his claims in an interview.
Richard Mugenzi was a Rwandan army radio operator when Habyarimana’s plane was downed on April 6, 1994, an event widely seen as sparking the genocide in which Hutu extremists slaughtered some 800 000 people, most of them Tutsis.

In 2001, Mugenzi told French investigators he “personally intercepted” and transcribed a message from the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) Tutsi guerrilla movement congratulating one of its squads for carrying out the attack.

His testimony is central to the case of a French anti-terrorist judge who issued warrants in 2006 for nine aides to President Paul Kagame, a former RPF leader, accusing them of being behind Habyarimana’s assassination. But in an interview with a French freelance journalist, the 48-year-old Mugenzi said the radio message was in fact dictated to him by his Hutu bosses as anti-Tutsi propaganda, Le Monde newspaper said in its Wednesday edition.

Contacted by AFP, the journalist Jean-Francois Dupaquier said that Mugenzi told him, in the interview in Kigali on May 31, he was convinced “the attack on the plane had nothing to do with the FPR.”

Quoted in Le Monde, Dupaquier acknowledged the possibility however that Mugenzi, who recently returned to live in Rwanda, had been pressured by Kigali into changing his statement.

Rwanda broke off diplomatic relations with France in the wake of the warrants against Kagame’s aides, and accuses Paris of having actively supported the Hutu perpetrators of the genocide.

But since President Nicolas Sarkozy’s election in 2007 Paris has sought to mend ties with the central African nation.

Last November one of the nine suspects targeted by the French inquiry, Kagame’s chief of protocol Rose Kabuye, was arrested in Frankfurt and extradited to France, where she was charged.

Kagame said at the time that her arrest and trial could help break the deadlock between the two countries.

Following Kabuye’s arrest, her defence team was given access to evidence against her, including Mugenzi’s testimony.

A few days later another central witness in the French case, former RPF soldier Josue Ruzibiza, retracted testimony that had incriminated Tutsi guerrillas in the ex-president’s murder.

Pic: RPF memeber looks at club