Rwanda, which has accused France of complicity in the 1994 genocide that killed some 800,000 of its citizens, said Tuesday it had invited President Emmanuel Macron to attend the 25th anniversary of the massacre on April 7.
Kigali has long insisted that France supported the Hutu regime and helped train the soldiers and militiamen who carried out the killing of minority ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
“President Macron has… been invited to the 25th commemoration of the 1994 genocide,” Rwanda’s state minister for foreign affairs, Olivier Nduhungirehe, told AFP.
Macron, who is on a swing through Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya, has not indicated whether he will attend the event in the Rwandan capital.
If he accepts, he will become only the second French president to visit the country since the genocide, which still poisons relations between the two nations.
Paris has consistently denied any involvement in the massacre, which the UN says claimed about 800,000 lives in 100 days between April and July 1994.
President Nicolas Sarkozy visited Kigali in February 2010, when he admitted France had made “serious errors,” although he gave no apology.
Relations chilled under his successor Francois Hollande but began to warm last May, when President Paul Kagame made the first visit to Paris by a Rwandan head of state since 2011.
He invited Macron to visit Rwanda, while Macron threw his weight behind Rwanda’s bid to have Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo appointed as secretary-general of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF), the French-language equivalent of the Commonwealth.
Rwanda was part of German East Africa from 1894 to 1918. After World War I, it was administered by Belgium, becoming a republic in 1961.
But in 2009, in what seen as a snub to France, it joined the English-speaking Commonwealth after Mozambique, the only other member of that organisation not to have historic ties to Britain.
In a further bilateral improvement, French judges in December dropped a long-running investigation into the killing of former Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana in April 1994 — the event that sparked the blood-letting.
The probe became a major source of tension between the two countries after seven people close to Kagame were charged.
Habyarimana, an ethnic Hutu, was killed in a missile strike on his plane near Kigali’s airport.
The first judge to lead the French probe, Jean-Louis Bruguiere, backed the theory that it was Tutsi militants from the former rebellion led by Kagame, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (FPR), who shot the plane down.
However, a Rwandan commission in 2009 said Hutu extremists were responsible for Habyarimana’s assassination.