A leader of an ethnic-Hutu rebel group with links to the 1994 Rwandan genocide was arrested in France for alleged war crimes committed in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the International Criminal Court said.
Callixte Mbarushimana, executive secretary of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR, was taken into custody at his home in Paris by French authorities today, Pascal Turlan, the court’s international cooperation adviser, said by phone from the city.
The rebel leader is accused of “general attacks against the civilian population including a series of massacres” committed by the FDLR in eastern Congo last year, Turlan said. The ICC is also investigating the FDLR’s involvement in attacks committed in August of this year in which hundreds of civilians were raped, he said.
Hutu rebels first fled to eastern Congo after the Rwandan genocide, in which 800,000 ethnic-Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in a 100-day massacre. They formed a succession of rebel groups, including the FDLR, and preyed upon the Congolese population.
The Congolese army is tracking down the remaining FDLR rebels in an operation supported by United Nations peacekeepers in eastern Congo.
“It’s an important blow, not a fatal blow, but an important blow against the FDLR,” Major Sylvain Ekenge, spokesman for the Congolese army operations against the rebels, said by phone from Goma. “This is what we’ve all been asking for, because they’re a foreign force and they get financing from foreign countries.”
The arrest is “an indicator of the good bilateral relationship between Rwanda and Congo and also of the efforts by various countries to track down genocide suspects and arrest them,” Rwandan Military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jill Rutaremara said by phone from Kigali, Rwanda’s capital. “And it goes further to demoralize the FDLR.”
A December report by Human Rights Watch, the New York-based advocacy group, accused the FDLR of killing more than 700 civilians in the first nine months of last year.
In one attack on the town of Busurungi last May, the rebels killed at least 96 people and burned down more than 700 houses, Human Rights Watch said. “Nearly half the victims were shot or hacked to death by machete,” the group said, while others had their throats slit or were immolated in their homes.
The FDLR also participated in a series of attacks on 13 villages in eastern Congo between July 30 and Aug. 2 this year that resulted in the rape of more than 300 civilians, according to the UN.
“The arrest of Callixte Mbarushimana sends a strong signal to abusive commanders in Congo and elsewhere that the ICC is at work investigating their crimes and that they will not go unpunished,” Anneke Van Woudenberg, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said by e-mail today.
Mbarushimana is also suspected of participating in the 1994 genocide. ICC jurisdiction dates back to 2002, when the court was created, so Mbarushimana will face trial only for FDLR crimes committed in Congo.
The FDLR’s president, Ignace Murwanashyaka, was arrested in November in Germany. He is awaiting trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Calls to the ICC seeking contact details for Mbarushimana’s lawyers weren’t answered outside of normal working hours. An e-mailed request for the information wasn’t immediately responded to.