A plane carrying the Rwandan president in 1994 was shot down by his own troops, according to a French judge.
The latest inquiry into Juvenal Habyarimana’s death contradicts an earlier French ruling that blamed the rebel fighters led by Paul Kagame, the current president.
The assassination of Habyarimana, who was from the Hutu tribe, sparked the Rwandan genocide which, according to the UN, cost the lives of 800,000 Tutsis in a little more than three months.
French troops were stationed in Rwanda at the time of the assassination and subsequent massacres and their role has long been a bone of contention between Paris and Kigali.
Sixteen years on, the French judge Marc Trévidic has released the results of a ballistics report he commissioned that he says proves the president’s plane was brought down by fire from the military camp housing his own presidential guard.
The current president’s lawyer Bernard Maingain, said: “I’m authorised by my clients to tell you that the specialist report which we have seen confirms the theory that the missile was fired from the Kanombe camp.”
But the lawyer representing the dead president’s widow played down the findings of the report. Philippe Meilhac said: “It’s the language of experts. We’ve been read the conclusions of a 300 page document. Obviously we’ll have to examine the details.”
The latest French announcement echoes a Rwandan government inquiry in 2010 which said Habyarimana’s entourage had masterminded the killing to torpedo his plan to share power with Kagame’s rebels.
An initial French investigation carried out by Judge Jean-Louis Bruguière had reached the opposite conclusion, and led to the issue of arrest warrants against people close to President Kagame.
Bruguière blamed the Rwandan Patriotic Front. Its leader at the time, Paul Kagame, blamed Hutu extremists, saying it was a pretext to carry out a plan to exterminate the Tutsis.
Relations between France and Rwanda have only recently begun to improve.