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French team arrives in Rwanda to investigate plane crash that sparked 1994 genocide

KIGALI, Rwanda (AP) — French investigators said Monday they will try to find out who shot down the plane carrying the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi in 1994, sparking the Rwandan genocide that killed more than half a million people.

A previous French investigation suggested that people close to current Rwandan President Paul Kagame may have been responsible for the crash that killed Rwanda's then-leader Juvenal Habyarimana and Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira.

Rwanda cut off diplomatic ties with France as a result in 2006 and restored them in November 2009. The Rwandan government's own investigation, released in January, suggested that the plane was shot down by Habyarimana's allies as an excuse for starting the genocide.

Rwanda's Justice Minister Tharcisse Karugarama said Monday that the government would fully cooperate with the French team. They arrived on Saturday and will be in Rwanda for a week.

"They asked for permission to come and carry out investigations and the government of Rwanda thought it was OK for them to come and find out and know that what was being said was false and the accusations are empty," said Rwanda Defense Force spokesman Lt. Col. Jill Rutaremara.

The French judiciary is looking into the downing of Habyarimana's plane because the crew was French. Judges Marc Trevidic and Nathalie Poux are heading the 17-person team including experts in aeronautics, ballistics and topography.

"The investigations will be conducted in an independent and transparent manner, will be impartial and objective and the two concerned parties will be involved and will follow the investigations as they happen," the judges said in a statement.

After the April 6, 1994 crash, militants from the Hutu ethnic majority quickly set up roadblocks across the capital, Kigali, and began killing Tutsis and moderate Hutus the following day. More than 500,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were massacred in 100 days of frenzied killing.

The slaughter stopped when Kagame's Tutsi rebel group, the Rwandan Patriotic Front, toppled the Hutu extremists. He is now the country's president.

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