BERLIN (Reuters) - A German court jailed the former political leader of a Rwandan rebel group on Monday for abetting war crimes committed in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) from his European exile.
After a marathon trial, the judge in the southwestern city of Stuttgart sentenced Ignace Murwanashyaka, who became president of the ethnic Hutu FDLR group in 2001, to 13 years. Straton Musoni, his one-time deputy, also got eight years on a charge of being a ringleader of a terrorist organization.
The FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) fled to Congo after the 1994 Rwandan genocide, in which 800,000 ethnic Tutsis were killed. The group played a major role in Congo's 1998-2003 conflict, in which 5 million people died, and has continued mass rapes, torture and killing in the east of the country, according to civil society groups in the country.
Rwandan Justice Minister Johnston Bussingye cautiously welcomed Monday's sentences. "It is a good step but it is a very small step. A big step is when the world realizes that this group in eastern DRC needs to be eliminated," he told Reuters in a phone interview in Kigali.
Both Murwanashyaka, 52, and Musoni, 54, have lived in Germany since the 1980s and held top positions in the FDLR until their arrest in 2009. Their trial, which lasted four years, was held under a German law which allows the country's courts to try people for crimes committed abroad.
During the case, the German prosecutors accused the FDLR of crimes including murder, assault, rape, sexual slavery, violent land seizures, looting and pillage.
Murwanashyaka, who grew up in Rwanda but studied economics in Germany, was also convicted of being the ringleader of a terrorist organization for his role with the FDLR.
As such, he acted as the group's top international representative while coordinating its activities, in contact with its political and military leadership in Rwanda.
Originally, he was also accused of crimes against humanity but a number of charges were subsequently dropped.
Last year a court in Frankfurt jailed a Rwandan Hutu for 14 years for his role in the genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda.
(Reporting by Tina Bellon in Berlin and Clement Uwingiriyamana in Kigali; Writing by David Stamp; Editing by Mark Heinrich)