Landmark Rwanda genocide trial opens in France

PARIS (AFP) - The landmark trial of a former Rwandan army captain charged with complicity in the 1994 genocide that left 800,000 dead opened on Tuesday in Paris, the first of its kind in France.

Pascal Simbikangwa, who denies the accusations against him, appeared in court in a wheelchair after a 1986 car accident that left him paraplegic. He faces life in prison.

The 54-year-old was arrested in 2008 on the French Indian Ocean island of Mayotte, where he had been living in hiding for three years.

“I was a captain in the Rwandan army then in the intelligence services,” Simbikangwa, a small, bald man wearing a brown jacket and white tracksuit bottoms, told the court in an opening statement.

He is accused of inciting, organising and aiding massacres during the genocide, particularly by supplying arms, instructions and encouragement to Interahamwe Hutu militia who were manning road blocks and killing Tutsi men, women and children.

He is being tried under laws adopted in 1996 and 2010 that allow French courts to consider cases of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Rwanda and other countries.

The historic case is being watched closely in France, which was accused of failing to rein in the Rwandan regime at the time of the genocide and of later dragging its feet over the repatriation or prosecution of individuals suspected of involvement in crimes against humanity.