5 Feb 2014

Rwandan genocide trial begins in France

8:14 am on 5 February 2014

A court in France has begun hearing the trial of a former Rwandan intelligence chief charged with complicity in the 1994 genocide.

Pascal Simbikangwa.

Pascal Simbikangwa. Photo: Interpol / AFP

Pascal Simbikangwa, 54, who is paraplegic after a car crash in 1986, was arrested in 2008 when he was living under an alias on France's Indian Ocean island of Mayotte. He denies all of the charges.

He has acknowledged being close to the government of President Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu whose assassination in 1994 led to the killing of an estimated 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

More than 50 journalists, historians, farmers, security guards, and former intelligence officials are expected to be called as witnesses in the trial.

The BBC reports France has been accused of being too slow to prosecute those accused of links to the killings.

After the genocide, many Rwandans fled to France as they share a common language and used to enjoy close diplomatic relations.

Rwandan Justice Minister Johnston Busingye said the start of the trial was a "good sign".

A lawyer working with the prosecution, Clemence Bectarte, told the BBC many of the suspects "have lived in total impunity" after seeking refuge in France in the late 1990s.

"Of course it is late, but it's never too late," she said.

The trial is expected to last seven weeks.