13 January 2013

Rwanda: Three Skeletons in France's Closet

Once again, France's past comes back to haunt it. The country, which has never apologized for its role in Rwanda during the period between 1990 and 94 (despite being very close to the Habyarimana regime and a tight collaboration between the two countries' armies) still has quite a few skeletons in its closet, and three of them came tumbling out last week courtesy of the French newspaper Libération (from which we have taken most of the information in this article).

Indeed, the paper was able to get its hands on a report by the judge Marc Trévidic, who had already published a report on the shooting down of President Juvénal Habyarimana's plane on April 6, 1994, which rubbished the hypothesis that the RPF was behind the attack, instead pointing the finger straight to the Rwandan army (and their French allies).

This time, he had discovered that in the week after the plane crash and the start of the massacres, three French nationals were also killed. On April 12 and 13, the bullet-riddled bodies of military police officers René Maier and Alain Didot, as well as that of the latter's wife Gilda, were found in the couple's villa in Kigali.

While that in itself might not be so extraordinary given the circumstances at the time (after all, ten Belgian UN-Bluehelmets were also murdered in the same period), some of the circumstances surrounding the killings were, to say the least, suspicious.

For one, the death certificate of Maier was forged. It carried the signature of doctor Michel Thomas, who was based in Bangui which at the time was a preferred destination for people fleeing the Genocide in Rwanda. Yet Thomas insists that he never wrote the certificate. Not only was the name of the deceased mentioned as Jean Maier (instead of René), but it was also typed, whereas Thomas says he always handwrote his certificates. In addition, he says that he didn't have the stamp which figures on the certificate, and that the description of the cause of the death was too general ('accidental,' 'caused by bullets') whereas he himself would at least have mentioned the number of gunshot wounds and their exact location.

Last but not least, the date on the certificate of Alain Didot was April 6, yet family members say that he called the parents of his wife on the morning of April 8.

As Libération points out, this raises serious questions about the then French government's involvement, because as the newspaper says "a false death certificate of a French military officer could never be established without the approval of some officials in Paris."

Families silenced

Another incriminating element pointing to official involvement came to light when Gaëtan Lana, the brother of Gilda Didot, told Trévidic that the family had been asked to keep silent. "Shortly after the burial, a high military officer came to see my parents and made them sign a declaration that they promised never to instigate an investigation into the death of my sister. At the time, my parents were still devastated by bereavement, so they signed it."

Libération observes that something similar happened to the families of the French crew of Habyarimana's plane, who were also "encouraged not to go to court" following the plane crash that caused the death of their relatives.

When it comes to the reason for the murders, and the subsequent secrecy, Libération remarks that Paris has always suspected the RPF to be responsible, because they might have though Didot and Maier were spies. Yet as the newspaper points out, if it were so simple, why the need for the false death certificates, and all the secrecy? And why would Paris have blocked an investigation, considering that the RPF wasn't exactly their ally.

Therefore, Libération speculates it might rather have something to do with the two military officer's occupation during their mission in Rwanda. Alain Didot came to the country in 1992 as a technical consultant in charge of radio transmission; he trained Rwandan military and maintained the radio network linking the French embassy and cooperation and the Rwandan army. At home, he had all the equipment allowing him to listen in on lots of conversations.

René Maier, for his part arrived in September 1993 as a technical consultant for the police, but it seems that he too was very involved in radio transmission. Libération quotes colonel Bernard Cussac, the superior of the two men, who before the French parliamentary investigation in the country's role in Rwanda, called Didot and Maier "transmitters."

In addition, according to other sources quoted by Libération the two men also had regular contact with the Rwandan army chiefs, as well as with Theoneste Bagosora.

Taking all of this into account, the newspaper wonders whether the men might have overheard a conversation on their radio containing information which they were not supposed to know - either on April 6, when the plane was shot down, or on April 8, which seems to be the day when the three French citizens were murdered.

Libération admits that at the moment this is only a theory, and has not been proven. Yet the newspaper concludes: "At the same time, this is also another indicator pointing to Paris to understand what happened in Rwanda's sky on April 6, 1994, at around 20.30h. On the eve of the Genocide."

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