Rwandan rebel leader arrested in Paris

AP News
Posted: Oct 11, 2010 2:35 PM
Rwandan rebel leader arrested in Paris

A Rwandan rebel accused of orchestrating a humanitarian catastrophe against Congolese villagers in a blackmail scheme to leverage more political power for his group in Kigali was arrested in Paris on Monday, the International Criminal Court said.

Callixte Mbarushimana (pronounced KA-lixt em-ba-ROO-shee-mana), a leader of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, known by its French acronym FDLR, was taken into custody on a secret warrant issued two weeks ago by the Hague-based tribunal.

Alain Gauthier, who heads an advocacy group for Rwandan genocide survivors, praised the arrest but said Mbarushimana also should be tried for the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

The court said he was charged with 11 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murder, rape, persecution based on gender and extensive destruction of property committed by the FDLR in 2009.

According to court papers, Mbarushimana and other FDLR leaders are accused of "having used violence against civilians as their main bargaining tool" in an international campaign to extort from Rwanda and the international community political power for the FDLR.

In a statement summarizing allegations against Mbarushimana, the court said the rebels deliberately sparked "a massive humanitarian catastrophe" then offered to end the atrocities in exchange for political power.

"As a result of this deadly blackmail, victims were killed, raped, and forcibly displaced, and entire villages were razed to the ground," the court alleged.

No date has been set for Mbarushimana to be transferred from Paris to The Hague.

The French Foreign Ministry said in a statement the arrest "shows France's constant will to fight impunity."

In Congo, government spokesman Lambert Mende also welcomed the arrest.

"It's a good, good thing considering the multiple crimes committed by the FDLR, which Mbarushimana managed from abroad," he said. "His Congolese victims demand justice for the crimes committed in their country."

The FDLR was established by former guerrillas accused of genocide in Rwanda's 1994 ethnic slaughter. After moving to Congo, the FDLR launched attacks on Rwanda aimed at ousting the government.

In Kigali, Rwandan Justice Minister Tharcisse Karugarama welcomed the arrest, calling it long overdue.

"For us, we think anybody arresting anyone for such crimes is a positive development and as the Government of Rwanda we welcome that," he said. "We want to congratulate the ICC for having taken that bold initiative."

Until his arrest, Mbarushimana, 47, had lived openly in a Paris suburb even though he was on a U.N. sanctions list. He is executive secretary of the FDLR, which is accused of killing at least 700 civilians last year. He is also on Interpol's wanted list for genocide in his native Rwanda.

The court's prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, called the arrest a "crucial step in efforts to prosecute the massive sexual crimes" committed in Congo, where more than 15,000 cases of sexual violence were reported last year.

Moreno Ocampo said the FDLR's attacks helped trigger two wars in Congo that left around 4 million people dead, and its fighters continue "to commit horrific crimes against the civilian population."

Gauthier's group filed a complaint against him in 2008 in France, and the Paris prosecutor's office said it opened a preliminary inquiry into the case in September.

"We never understood why Mbarushimana was able to continue publishing FDLR press statements from Paris while there was a complaint filed against him," Gauthier said. "For us, it was a great mystery and an affront to genocide victims."

Gauthier says the group has filed 17 complaints against people it accuses of roles in the genocide, and only two have been arrested. The others "continue to live tranquil lives in France, denying any participation in the genocide."

In an interview last year with The Associated Press, Mbarushimana cast himself as a freedom fighter in the mold of anti-Apartheid icon Nelson Mandela.

He said he was fighting for his people, who are being persecuted by a Rwandan government that discriminates against Hutus.

In the decade and a half since Rwanda's genocide, Mbarushimana has avoided trial on a series of technicalities.

He became more influential in the FDLR after Germany arrested its chairman and vice president late last year.

After the Rwanda genocide, he went to work as a software programmer for the United Nations in Angola and then Kosovo.

He was arrested in Kosovo at the request of Rwanda but released in 2001 because Rwanda failed to properly prepare his indictment.

He was later indicted by the Rwanda war crimes tribunal, set up by the U.N. in Tanzania. But his case was dropped. Those close to the case say the court was under orders to only go after the "big fish," meaning the orchestrators of the genocide rather than those who helped carry out the massacres.

He was arrested as recently as 2008 at Frankfurt airport when passport control realized he was the subject of an Interpol "Red Notice." But he was released after four months in prison after German authorities _ much like the French _ deemed that they could not extradite him to Rwanda because of the country's dysfunctional judiciary and poor human rights record.


Associated Press Writers Edmund Kagire in Kigali, Rwanda, and Angela Doland in Paris contributed to this report.