Former French army officer, Guillaume Ancel, who was assigned to Operation Turquoise during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, has spoken out on his experience, disclosing how he was “advised” to stay silent on the role of the so-called combat mission in Rwanda.
In an article published in French newspaper, Le Monde, the officer expresses his disappointment and frustrations after failing to get an audience to testify on his role during Operation Turquoise in attempt to cover up the French role in the Genocide.
“When I returned from this operation, I was puzzled about the role that we played on the ground and the support to the interim government (GIR, whose central role in the Genocide I was not yet aware of) and the Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR) whose disintegration we witnessed in the face of Paul Kagame’s RPF,” he recalls.
“I had a lot of questions in mind but was not allowed to publicly voice them due to the duty of confidentiality imposed by the military regulations.”
ON 22 June 1994, I was assigned to Operation Turquoise as FAC of a combat company of the 2nd REI (Foreign Infantry Regiment, Nîmes) with which I left on June 23.
I insist on the fact that I was not present during political-military discussions and had no access to the decision-making circles that decided that intervention.
However, I know quite well what I did there, between Zaire and Rwanda, with a few hundred men whose exposure was quite restricted while their actions were specific to say the least.
I returned on August 5, to prepare for the next mission, Sarajevo.
When I returned from this operation, I was very puzzled about the role that we played on the ground and the support to the interim government (GIR, whose central role in the Genocide I was not yet aware of) and the Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR) whose disintegration we witnessed in the face of Paul Kagame’s RPF.
I had a lot of questions in mind but was not allowed to publicly voice them due to the duty of confidentiality imposed by the military regulations. Armies are often criticized for this culture of silence and this constant pressure exerted by the military environment. In reality, it is mostly a culture of not writing. You have the freedom to speak internally; I do not remember a single military asking me to keep quiet in our “closed” circles. What is forbidden is to speak publicly and thus to write.
For example, my various bosses in operational units have always asked me to delete, of my end of mission reports, any parts that questioned the mission otherwise than on the technical aspects of our work, even though they openly discussed it with me.
Therefore few men in uniform ever write, and their rare attempts are too often tedious autobiographies or a tribute to their ability to stay silent. This is especially true for Rwanda where the few writings of military origin are marked by crocodile tears rather than honor.
Why have I been silent for 20 years?
I never stopped talking during “private discussions”, dinners with friends, who quickly make you understand that they do not necessarily understand this debate. I spoke during academic discussions, during training cycles, where you are listened to with interest but without any interest of follow-up. It was not a lack of interest of those who listened to me, often with attention, but it never went beyond the private sphere and was never taken to a public debate, it remained merely private discussions.
I should also add that a few months after Rwanda, I went for another complicated mission as head of TACP (in charge of air strikes) of the 1st REC (Foreign Regiment of Cavalry, Orange) in Sarajevo. As I went on other missions and Rwanda got further and further…
However I continued to reflect on this topic as I have some Rwandan friends whose wounds will never heal and whose friendship never ceases to remind me of the 1994 tragedy. They are Tutsis and Hutus; they are Rwandans whose common point is not the spirit of revenge, but to have “lived” Genocide. Don’t assume that they have asked me even once to testify; in reality it is impossible for them to even talk about it. When the subject is mentioned, their eyes remain open but seem empty, locked in a world of darkness, of the unspeakable. These Rwandans have never asked me to testify, but they all thanked me for doing so, regardless of their beliefs.
Why was I never heard by the parliamentary commission?
It is 1997, I hear the parliamentary debate in Belgium on the radio, serious investigation on their role and responsibilities. I begin to expect a French debate, which finally begins in 1998 with the creation of the parliamentary commission on Rwanda chaired by Paul Quiles. I think I will finally be questioned and inform our members of parliament of some facts which continued to puzzle me: Combat missions which we went on under the name of “humanitarian” operation; the benevolence which we showed to GIR and FAR whose involvement in the Genocide became clearer each day; and especially the weapons sent to Zaire…
I went to ask to be interviewed when a particularly well-intentioned friend told me that the MIP was not really a commission of inquiry and that my questions would be very unwelcome. And then I read in Le Monde a report on the hearing of Jean Christophe Mitterrand, whom Rwandans spoke of widely…
Can this really be called a hearing?
– Good morning dear Sir how are you?
– Do you have anything to do with the Rwandan tragedy? It would be better if you did not.
– Very well, thank you and goodbye.
My adviser was right, this was not an inquiry mission, it was about protection and covering up the information found.
I swallowed my disappointment and some bitterness. I followed, but with increasing distance the discussions of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, few indictments in Belgium and especially in Switzerland, this historic place of refuge that for once refused to be a haven for perpetrators. And I continue to speak about this in the emptiness… I was speaking but I was not heard.
How my novel shattered the official version of Operation Turquoise
February 2014, I publish “Winds dark on Lake Kivu” in, after a year of polite rejections from publishers.
It is the publication of this novel that will trigger my public testimony.
Very quickly, it becomes clear that my story, which I was repeatedly told was already known, is actually incompatible with the official version of Operation Turquoise. This fact became clear when I attended a private symposium in March, bringing together historians, politicians and diplomats specifically to discuss the role of France in the Rwandan tragedy. I was invited because of the publication of my novel and as a direct witness to the French intervention.
I testified on my role, at my humble and vey technical level during Operation Turquoise, before an audience convinced of its own familiarity with the topic… and I saw 24 jaws dropping. I thought I had published nothing new, something already integrated into the work of historians, but I saw their astonishment after hearing my testimony.
Of course, some of them told me later that they “knew” a great deal of what I was saying, but they had never gotten confirmation by an active participant of this intervention, or a coherent narrative. I had to face some surprising reactions. At first, and I think I stayed very polite, one of the speakers, more of a politician than a historian, tried to explain to me in front of a startled assembly that I in fact did not understand the mission that had been assigned to me and that this was only a misunderstanding, since he knew what orders had been given…
The reaction of the Chairman of the symposium was much subtler: “It is a matter of interpretation of facts that must be seen in a broader context of certain aspects you are not aware of.” He naturally concluded that it would be better for me to adapt to the system rather than disrupt its inner workings.
But when I spoke of the first combat missions we were assigned, of the support to the interim government and especially the distribution of arms during a humanitarian mission, his reaction said much more than his words. It showed him the shortcomings of the parliamentary commission he knew better than anyone.
These reactions were shocking to me. How can we understand what happened and ensure that this kind of tragedy never happens again if we do not even know all the pieces of the puzzle? It is an affront to our collective intelligence that I cannot accept: the official version could not be further from the reality, of which I know only a small part. The two narratives are tragically opposed. How can one understand what one doesn’t know?
Why I agreed to testify publicly April 2014, 20 years after the facts.
I wanted to testify publicly on the few pieces of the puzzle that I do have, so that we may stop blinding the French people with an official version that denies the role of our nation in the Rwandan tragedy. This is an affront to the intelligence of our citizens, it tells them to “close their eyes in peace, nothing happened.”
As the whole world commemorates the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide, I had no trouble finding serious journalists who have been working for years on the subject and often had been published themselves. They were interested in my testimony and in disseminating it to the public.
In 2014, we still do not know what the real role of France was in the Rwandan tragedy. Smoke screens are carefully used to hide serious mistakes.
Why should this debate take place?
My approach is clear: as a citizen, I would like to know what decisions were taken in the intervention of France in Rwanda, who made those decisions, for what purpose and under whose guidance. As a former military, I don’t want this to be about holding accountable my fellow soldiers who carried out this operation in a very professional manner, as expected of them, which is an attitude I stand behind.
I want this debate to take place, and without waiting for the protagonists to disappear as we did so bravely after the war in Algeria.
A final word on all those who “advised” me to stay silent. There are many and they all listed good reasons: I am controversial, it’s not up to me to lead this debate, I could jeopardize my career, I am not respecting the rule of confidentiality that extends even beyond active duty, I have broken the culture of silence, my words could be understood as criticism of my comrades, I am feeding an international controversy, I am questioning the image of France, I am putting (very) influential policymakers in difficulty who will neutralize me, I am drawing attention to financial transactions that should not be disclosed, I am drawing unnecessary attention to myself, I am not protecting myself enough, I am not sparing my loved ones, I should not go on a crusade, I will be alone, I am a thorn in their side.
Well if I needed one reason to speak, it would be exactly because I am being advised to stay silent. I will hold my tongue when those who should speak have began to testify and when we can honor with dignity, the hundreds of thousands of victims, whose death we could have prevented.