Rwandan militia leader arrested: caught up in the blood trail

First in Germany, now in Paris: With Callixte Mbarushimana, a Hutu militia leader was arrested again for joint terror plans for the Congo.

Arrested in Paris: Callixte Mbarushimana, political leader of the Rwandan militia FDLR. Photo: reuters

The main political leader of one of the world’s most brutal militias is in custody. Callixte Mbarushimana, executive secretary of the Rwandan Hutu militia FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda), was arrested in Paris on Monday on an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC). He is to be brought before a magistrate on Thursday for extradition to The Hague.

Mbarushimana has effectively led the organization since the arrest of FDLR President Ignace Murwanashyaka in Germany in November 2009 and has issued orders from Paris to FDLR units in eastern DRC. The FDLR is the successor organization to that Rwandan army and those Hutu militias that committed the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda, killing over 800,000, and who subsequently fled to Congo. Stationed in rural areas of eastern Congo and tightly militarized, their fighters are believed to be responsible for numerous crimes.

As recently as August 26, 2010, Mbarushimana had denied in a press statement that FDLR troops were responsible for a series of mass rapes in the Walikale district in late July and early August. By that time, however, the Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor had already requested an arrest warrant for Mbarushimana.

It was issued on September 28 and has remained under seal. Now published, it lists eleven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including rape, murder, destruction and torture. Several pages list crime scenes in the Kivu provinces, without the exact allegations of the crimes.

One specific accusation, however, is the planned attack by an FDLR battalion on the town of Busurungi, in which 60 civilians died; numerous women were raped, and FDLR fighters slit open the stomachs of pregnant women.

Mbarushimana, the ICC said, "personally and intentionally contributed to a common plan to carry out attacks against civilians in order to create a humanitarian disaster and to launch an international campaign to extort concessions of political power for the FDLR. Mr. Mbarushimana is suspected of having organized and directed the aforementioned international campaign, regularly using international and local media."

The emphasis on a "joint plan" marks a new quality in international cooperation against the FDLR, which is seen as the main obstacle to peace in Central Africa. Word from The Hague is that they have been working closely for a year and a half with German authorities, who already arrested FDLR President Ignace Murwanashyaka and his deputy Straton Musoni in 2009. They and Mbarushimana are accused of responsibility for the same crimes.

Unlike Murwanashyaka, Mbarushimana is also alleged to have been actively involved in the Rwandan genocide. The charges brought by the Rwandan Attorney General’s Office are shocking. Mbarushimana, a Hutu, had worked as a computer expert for the UN development organization UNDP during the Rwandan genocide.

When his foreign colleagues were withdrawn at the beginning of the massacres of Tutsis in April 1994, he appointed himself office manager. Armed with a Kalashnikov, Mbarushimana convened several meetings at his UN office in Kigali at which he plotted to kill other Rwandan UN staff, according to the Rwandan file.

Witnesses confirmed he had drawn up a list of his colleagues, which he had marked "H" for Hutu and "T" for Tutsi. He had then led the Hutu militia Interahamwe to the houses of the "T" collaborators. After the bloodshed, he had invited the militia leaders to UNDP headquarters in Kigali for beer that evening.

Mbarushimana remained employed by the UN thereafter, first in Angola, later in Kosovo, after which he went to France. Several times he was arrested on Rwandan warrants and released. Now the Congo has caught up with him.

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