Arusha, February 25, 2010 (FH) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy paid a quick half-a-day's trip to Kigali Thursday to open a new chapter in ties with a country where France stands accused of aiding 1994 genocide. The genocide claimed the lives of about 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus, according to the UN.

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President Sarkozy paid a visit to Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre accompanied by his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame.

‘'In the name of the people of France, I pay my respects to the victims of the genocide against Tutsis,'' he wrote in the visitors book, according to AFP.

 He acknowledged that France and the international community made ‘'mistakes'' during the 1994 killings but fell short of apologizing, according to media reports.

At a joint press conference, Sarkozy spoke of his regrets about the sequence of events that culminated with the killings.

‘'What happened here is unacceptable, but what happened here compels the international community, including France, to reflect on the mistakes that stopped it from preventing and halting this abominable crime,'' BBC quoted him to have said.

 Rwanda broke off diplomatic ties in 2006 when a French judge accused Rwandan President Kagame - a former rebel leader - and his aides of shooting down the plane of then-President Habyarimana, the incident that sparked the genocide.  Judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere issued indictments for nine top Kagame aides.

Rwanda then retaliated with names of 30 French top politicians and military officers for their alleged roles in the genocide and demanded legal action.

 The visit of Sarkozy follows visit of the French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner to Kigali last month. The two countries restored diplomatic ties in November 2009.

 France has recently sent a team of judges twice to Rwanda in connection with investigations into genocide suspects living in France.

 Rwanda has demanded they be tried or be repatriated to Kigali. Among those who fled to France included Agathe Kazinga, the wife of former Rwandan President Habyarimana.

 France has also announced that there were plans to set up a new panel to try cases of genocide and crimes against humanity. A Bill will be presented to parliament in the coming six months to create the new unit within the Paris High Court.

 Sarkozy's visit to Rwanda makes him the first French president to visit the central African nation since the genocide.

 The former Belgian colony-angered by France's inaction to stop the genocide and in a sign of complete disapproval-- moved toward the Anglophone world by joining two English-speaking blocs and changing its official language from French to English.

Late last year Rwanda joined the Commonwealth - a group almost exclusively made up of former British colonies.

Habyarimana's plane was shot down by unknown assailants as it was approaching the capital Kigali, on 6 April 1994, which triggered the killings.

 In the aftermath of the genocide, the United Nations Security Council established the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in neighbouring Arusha, Tanzania, to try key suspects of the killings.

 The Tribunal has been directed to complete all its first instance trials before end of the year and the Appeals by 2012. The Tribunal has so far convicted 43 and acquitted eight.


© Hirondelle News Agency