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Rwanda offers rare praise to ICC over arrest of war crimes suspect

October 11, 2010 (PARIS) – The Rwandan government on Monday offered rare praise of the International Criminal Court (ICC) after managing to arrest a militia leader who now faces 11 counts of crimes against humanity and six war crimes charges for murders, rapes, torture and destruction of property in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in 2009.

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Rwandan Callixte Mbarushimana during an interview with The Associated Press in Paris (AP)

Callixte Mbarushimana, a leader of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, known by its French acronym FDLR, was taken into custody in the French capital, where he was residing, on a secret warrant issued two weeks ago by the ICC judges that was made public today.

He is the fifth suspect in the custody of the ICC, which is investigating five ’situations’ in Africa but has no police force of its own and has had difficulties enforcing arrest warrants.

"For us, we think anybody arresting anyone for such crimes is a positive development and as the Government of Rwanda we welcome that," Rwandan Justice Minister Tharcisse Karugarama was quoted by Associated Press.

"We want to congratulate the ICC for having taken that bold initiative" Karugarama said.

The Justice Minister also said Kigali will be cooperating with the ICC in the imminent prosecution of Mbarushimana.

In the past Rwanda has been critical of the ICC and its president Paul Kagame have described the court as " been put in place only for African countries, only for poor countries," in his comment about the arrest warrant issued for Sudanese president Omer Hassan Al-Bashir.

"Every year that passes, I am proved right," Kagame added. "Rwanda cannot be part of that colonialism, slavery and imperialism."

The African Union (AU) has issued several resolutions over the last two years criticizing the ICC for Bashir’s indictment and vowed no country shall cooperate in apprehending him. African leaders have consistently accused the Hague tribunal of targeting only individuals in the continent.

Rwanda is not a state party to the ICC but crimes allegedly committed by Mbarushimana took place in DRC which is a signatory to the Rome Statute.

The Kinshasa government welcomed Mbarushimana’s arrest. "It’s good news for the Democratic Republic of Congo and the whole Great Lakes region," government spokesman Lambert Mende told Agence France Presse (AFP).

"Mbarushimana led from Europe the FDLR’s armed bands which spread death and destruction in our country and threatened security in their own country," Rwanda, he said.

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 ICC can only prosecute him for crimes committed since the court was established in 2002 and not for genocide that took place prior to that year.

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.

Mbarushimana 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.

ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said the arrest was a "crucial step in efforts to prosecute the massive sexual crimes committed in the DRC," adding that more than 15,000 cases of sexual violence were reported in the country in 2009.

The arrest is the result of almost two years of inquiries conducted by France, Germany, the DRC, Rwanda and the ICC, Ocampo said.

Mbarushimana is being detained in France and authorities there are yet to process the ICC’s request for his transfer to its detention facilities in the Netherlands, a court official told Reuters, giving no details of the arrest operation.

If he is transferred, Mbarushimana will face the court for a confirmation of charges hearing to decide whether he should stand trial. Any trial is not expected to start this year.

(ST)