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Tutsi group behind assassination that sparked Rwandan genocide

March 1, 2000 (AP)

A Canadian newspaper reported Wednesday that Tutsi informants told U.N. investigators they helped shoot down a plane carrying Rwanda's president in 1994, an attack sparking a genocidal war that claimed 500 000 lives.

National Post newspaper quoted from a United Nations report dated Aug. 1, 1997, that said the informants cited Paul Kagame, now vice president of Rwanda, and an unidentified foreign government as being behind the attack on the airplane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana.

Habyarimana was from the Hutu majority. Many familiar with the issue believe that Hutu extremists, angered by his efforts toward sharing power with Rwanda's long-dominant Tutsi minority, were responsible for killing him.

Post Managing Editor Hugo Gurdon declined to disclose any information about the source of the U.N. report. U.N. officials contacted by The Associated Press refused to discuss the newspaper's report.

Within hours of the April 6, 1994 attack, Hutu soldiers, officers and militiamen went on a rampage against Tutsis and those Hutus opposed to their political agenda. The violence lasted three months and killed more than half a million people, most of them Tutsis.

According to the report, three Tutsi informants told U.N. investigators in 1997 they were part of an elite team under Kagame that shot down the plane with two surface-to-air missiles as it landed at Kigali, the Rwandan capital.

The informants told the investigators that Kagame's Rwandan Patriotic Front, a Tutsi-dominated rebel group, decided to kill Habyarimana because the power-sharing talks were progressing too slowly, the newspaper reported.

All aboard the plane died, including Burundi President Cyprien Ntaryamira.

The information, if verified, could have significant repercussions in the ongoing work of a U.N. tribunal investigating the Rwandan genocide that followed Habyarimana's killing.

Defendants before the tribunal and others argue that if the plane carrying Habyarimana was shot down by Kagame's RPF, then the ensuing attacks by Hutus were more a consequence of war than a planned genocide.

Tribunal officials say the mandate for their work excludes an investigation of the crash. The National Post story said Louise Arbour, the former chief prosecutor of the tribunal, halted the investigation into the crash for that reason.

Arbour, now a justice on the Supreme Court of Canada, declined to comment on the National Post report, her office said Wednesday. At the United Nations, spokesman Fred Eckhard said the current tribunal prosecutor, Carla del Ponte, also had nothing to say.

"As a matter of policy she would not comment on any information that might have been leaked concerning ongoing investigations," Eckhard said.

(C) Associated Press, 2000 - Reprinted for Fair Use Only

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