Rwanda's Kagame says relations are on the mend with France

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FILE PHOTO: International Conference in support of Sudan in Paris

PARIS (Reuters) - France's acceptance in a report this year that it bore a responsibility for the 1994 genocide in Rwanda marked a "big step forward" in repairing relations between the two countries, Rwandan President Paul Kagame said on Monday.

A commission established by President Emmanuel Macron concluded in March that France had been blinded by its colonial attitude to events leading up to the genocide and bore "serious and overwhelming" responsibility. However, the nearly 1,000-page report absolved France of complicity in the killings.

"When you talk about overwhelming responsibility ... that means a lot," the Rwandan president told France 24. "This is a big step forward. Maybe not forget (the past) but forgive it and be able to move forward."

Kagame has previously said the French participated in the genocide. On Monday, the Rwandan leader said there was grounds for good relations between the two nations and that he hoped France would send an ambassador to Kigali.

Kagame was in Paris for a summit on post-pandemic financing for African nations hosted by Macron. The French president is due to visit Rwanda later this month.

Asked if an apology would be a further important gesture, Kagame responded: "I think so."

Some 800,000 people were slaughtered, mainly from the ethnic Tutsi minority but also moderate Hutus, during the genocide. Kagame, a Tutsi, has been the main power in Rwandan politics since his rebel army ended the slaughter by death squads loyal to the Hutu-led government.

Ever since the genocide, critics of France's role have said that then-President Francois Mitterrand failed to prevent the massacres or even supported the Hutu-led government.

Over the past two decades, Kagame has been feted as a saviour by supporters from Washington to the World Economic Forum in Davos, while also being accused of silencing dissenting voices at home.

Earlier this year, Paul Rusesabagina, the hotelier depicted as a hero in a Hollywood film about the genocide and a vocal critic of Kagame, went on trial for terrorism-related offences. Rusesabagina says he was abducted from Dubai, while Rwandan officials say he was tricked into boarding a plane.

"What's wrong with tricking a criminal?" Kagame told France 24. "When you get him, where do you put him? In a court of law, I think that is ok."

(Reporting by Richard Lough; Editing by Alex Richardson)