By SOF Editor on Wed, 11/18/2009 - 11:49am
The Rwandan government is praising the arrest Tuesday of a Hutu rebel leader and his deputy who were living in Germany. The two are being charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity.
German prosecutors issued arrest warrants Monday for Ignace Murwanashyaka and Straton Musoni, describing them as leaders of a "terrorist group." The charges include war crimes, crimes against humanity, using child soldiers, and heading a criminal organization.
In 2001 Murwanashyaka became head of the rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, known by its French initials FDLR.
The ethnic-Hutu rebel group, composed largely of those who fled Rwanda after killing their Tutsi neighbors during the 1994 genocide, is based across the Rwandan border in lawless eastern portions of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Human-rights groups have long accused the militia of killing and raping Congolese civilians and exploiting the region's mineral riches to fund its activities.
Rwandan Ambassador to Germany Christine Nkurikiyinka welcomed the European nation's action, saying Rwanda had been pressuring the German government for some time to detain the pair.
"It was also in the interest of the German government to have those people arrested if they are living here and acting from here and planning from here, from Germany. It is not acceptable that they stay here and commit such atrocities from here," she said.
Rwandan authorities have indicated they will seek to get the two extradited to face trial. They say they will also use the occasion to further push the international community to giving greater assistance in containing the rebel militia. Key leaders and financiers of the rebel group are said to be residing in France and the United States.
The arrests may be a signal that Western countries are beginning to strengthen their resolve to neutralize the group's international network.
The special U.S. envoy to the Great Lakes region called earlier this month for "more energetic efforts" to go after FDLR members in Europe and the United States.
The rebel group denies committing armed atrocities in eastern DRC, asserting instead that it is fighting for real democracy in Rwanda. The militia has avoided picking public leaders who can be easily to implicated in the 1994 slaughter.
Murwanashyaka has been a long-time resident of Germany, first arriving as a student in 1989. He then received a Ph.D. in economics from a local university and proceeded to marry a German woman. In 2000 he was granted status as a political refugee.
But international pressure has slowly built on Germany to end the safe harbor given to the FDLR leader. The United Nations has tracked regular phone calls between the rebel head in Germany and FDLR's military commander in eastern DRC, and the international body has placed travel bans on him for violating an arms embargo on the rebel group's area of operation.
In 2008 Rwanda sought an arrest warrant against Murwanashyaka in German courts, which was denied. Rwanda's top public prosecutor then flew to Germany to personally brief federal investigators on the evidence against the rebel head.