France arrests doctor accused in Rwanda genocide

On Wednesday France arrested a Hutu doctor wanted at home on charges of involvement in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Analysts say it may demonstrate a French shift in how it handles Rwandan exiles facing war crimes charges.

By , Staff writer

In a move that may demonstrate a shift in how France handles Rwandan exiles facing war crimes charges, French police yesterday arrested a Hutu in connection with the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

The arrest of Sosthene Munyemana was made at the request of Rwanda, which is seeking his extradition on war crimes charges. Mr. Munyemana, a prominent Hutu doctor from Rwanda's second largest city of Butare has lived in France since 1994 and had sought asylum there but was turned down last year. He was freed on bail shortly after his arrest Wednesday, pending a court appearance.

The French have temporized in recent years on how to deal with several dozen prominent Hutu officials who were given refuge in France after the Rwandan genocide and have since been accused by Rwanda and international investigators of involvement in the killing of 800,000 Hutus and Tutsis in 1994.

Mr. Munyemana has been living in Bordeaux and working in the emergency room at the Saint-Cyr de Villeneuve hospital, where he was arrested. He has steadily denied the charges against him.

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The arrest follows a recent easing of tensions between the French and Rwandan governments and precedes a visit to Kigali scheduled for February by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

“This sends a signal that whatever is being agreed to between the French and [President Paul] Kagame, dealing with genocidaires is near the top of the list,” says Andrew Wallis, an expert on Rwanda at Cambridge University in the UK. “Rwanda wants France to arrest dozens of genocidaires that are thumbing their noses at the Kagama government and the survivors and who now earn a good living in France.”

Munyemana has been described in the UN and other post-genocide investigations as a close protégé and ideological partner of Hutu power leader Jean Kambanda, who pled guilty to a genocide charge at the Rwandan War Crimes Tribunal in Tanzania.

“Clad in a long black coat, armed with a machete, or an iron bar shaped like a pipe, a sword or a gun, he wore banana leaves to motivate peasants,” a 2007 African Rights report said of Munyemana, citing eyewitnesses.

In 1997 the World Medical Association cited the case of Munyemana, sometimes called “The Butcher of Tumba,” in creating a resolution asking states not to offer medical licenses to doctors accused of war crimes or torture until they have satisfactorily answered charges.

“It's always difficult describing who the big fish are among genocide suspects,” says Rakiya Omaar, a researcher for African Rights based in Kenya who has prepared detailed reports on Rwanda. “But Munyemana is an important local figure. He was a highly respected doctor teaching at the university who literally killed with his own hands. He killed with a sword, and he killed those who sought refuge in the hospital. He wasn’t just asking others to kill, he did so directly, and when a prominent doctor is out on the street with a machete, how can simple peasants not take him as an example?”

The subject is a highly sensitive here given a perceived official French leaning towards the Hutu position in the run up to 1994, including French training and military assistance to the Rwandan military. Rwanda broke ties with France in 2006 after a judicial inquiry cited President Kagame -- then a rebel-leader -- as a likely instigator of the assassination of Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana in 1994 by a missile attack on his plane, which set off the killing spree. French media have ceased to take the inquiry seriously, following the recanting of two of four key witnesses.

Two weeks ago a Rwandan commission issued a report citing a host of outside evidence and more than 500 witnesses that placed the blame on the Hutu power movement and "three whites" who were not identified further for the death of Habyarimana.

French courts have been denying asylum status to Hutu residents in France citing abundant evidence against them from UN investigations.

It is unclear whether Munyemana will be put on trial or extradited. France has arrested and released Hutu refugees from Rwanda accused of participation before; the Munyemana case could mark a change.

Mr. Wallis argues that “We need more action than arresting and bailing.....The linchpin of it all is the status of Agathe [Habyarimana – the wife of the former president now living in Paris]. The big question is what happens with her."

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