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French President Emmanuel Macron speaks at a joint news conference with Rwandan President Paul Kagame, in Kigali, on May 27, 2021.JEAN BIZIMANA/Reuters

French President Emmanuel Macron said he recognized his country’s role in the Rwandan genocide and hoped for forgiveness at a memorial in Kigali on Thursday, seeking to reset relations after years of Rwandan accusations that France was complicit in the 1994 atrocities.

“Only those who went through that night can perhaps forgive, and in doing so give the gift of forgiveness,” Mr. Macron said at the Gisozi genocide memorial, where more than 250,000 victims are buried. Rows of skulls lie there in a mass tomb and the names of the victims are inscribed on a black wall.

“I hereby humbly and with respect stand by your side today, I come to recognize the extent of our responsibilities,” he said, speaking against a background of French and Rwandan flags.

The visit follows the March release of a report by a French inquiry panel that said a colonial attitude had blinded French officials, who were close to the Hutu-led government of the time. The report blamed France for not foreseeing the slaughter and said the government bore a “serious and overwhelming” responsibility.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame praised the “remarkable, independent” report and said it had opened the door for normalizing relations. He also welcomed Mr. Macron’s speech, saying at a joint news conference later that “his words were more powerful than an apology.”

Mr. Kagame said Mr. Macron was confronting racism and underscored Rwanda’s willingness to reset relations with France, saying, “This visit is about the future, not the past. ... I want to believe today that this rapprochement is irreversible.”

The report absolved France of direct complicity in the killings of more than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus – an accusation that Mr. Kagame has sometimes made and a point Mr. Macron was careful to note in his speech at the genocide memorial.

“The killers who stalked the swamps, the hills, the churches, did not have the face of France. France was not an accomplice,” Mr. Macron said.

During the first visit to Rwanda by a French leader since 2010, Mr. Macron also promised to name a new ambassador, the first accredited French envoy since 2015. France had declined to appoint a new ambassador after Mr. Kagame accused it of complicity in the genocide.

Rwanda’s Finance Minister, Uzziel Ndagijimana, also said he signed a €60-million (US$73-million) loan with France to finance access to vaccines and social protection.

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