French general testifies in Rwanda massacre probe

PARIS (AFP) - A French general has testified for the first time in a probe into the role of French forces during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, sources close to the case said on Sunday.

General Jean-Claude Lafourcade was questioned in particular over claims that France's UN-mandated Operation Turquoise, which he led, left ethnic Tutsis to be slaughtered by Hutu killers in the western Bisesero hills in June 1994, the sources said.

French soldiers had been deployed in Rwanda a few days earlier under UN instructions to stop the genocide that had begun in April, and which three months later had left at least 800,000 people dead, most of them Tutsis.

In 2005, survivors filed a complaint in France, saying the French troops had on June 27 vowed to return to Bisesero, but when they came back three days later, it was too late for hundreds of Tutsis who were massacred.

Gen Lafourcade, who appeared as an "assisted witness" - meaning he has not been charged but can be summoned for questioning at any time - again refuted the accusations during lengthy hearings on Jan 12 and 14, the sources said.

The retired general, now 72, also dismissed as "completely false" allegations that French soldiers supplied arms to the Hutu extremists.

His lawyer Pierre-Olivier Lambert told AFP that Gen Lafourcade was "very glad to have finally been able to testify before the French justice system as he has been asking to do for many years".

Rwandan President Paul Kagame has accused Paris of complicity in the genocide because of its support of the Hutu nationalist government that carried out the mass slaughter.

Paris has repeatedly denied the accusations and insists that French forces had worked to protect civilians. Bilateral relations, completely frozen from 2006 to 2009, remain tense.