One of the top remaining fugitives from the 1994 Rwanda genocide was captured in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the United Nations confirmed Thursday, having been harbored by a rebel militia for more than 20 years.
Ladislas Ntaganzwa was captured Saturday night outside the eastern city of Goma, after trying to flee an offensive against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), the largest of the many rebel groups that roam eastern Congo, Congolese Army spokesman Guillaume Djike told Agence France-Presse.
A former mayor of Nyakizu in southern Rwanda, Mr. Ntaganzwa has been accused and indicted of crimes against humanity by the UN-backed International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), including organizing the massacre of thousands of Tutsi civilians in a church parish – part of the overall 800,000 people who were slaughtered during the genocide. The United States offered a $5 million reward for information on Ntaganzwa's whereabouts under its War Crimes Rewards Program, naming him "one of the main instigators of the genocide" in Rwanda's southern Butare district.
"The National Public Prosecution Authority is pleased to announce the recent arrest of Ladislas Ntaganzwa, one of the last fugitive suspects sought by the [ICTR]," Rwanda’s Prosecutor General Richard Muhumuza said in a statement.
Rwanda is still actively pursing genocide perpetrators more than 20 years later, many of whom, it says, are being harbored in eastern Congo under the protection of the FDLR. The militia includes Hutu fighters who took part in the 1994 genocide and have vowed to overthrow Rwanda’s Tutsi-led government. A UN source told Reuters that the arrest took place in the town of Nyanzale in North Kivu province, a region where over two million Rwandan Hutus fled after the genocide.
Ntaganzwa’s arrest comes as the UN mission in the Congo (MONUSCO) and the Congolese army renews efforts this year to "neutralize" the FDLR after years of brutality in eastern Congo. Rwanda has repeatedly spoken out against the UN Security Council for its failure first to prevent the genocide and then to tackle the rebel groups in Congo.
"Twenty years after the genocide in Rwanda, there should be no further preconditions or delays in bringing the FDLR’s long history of brutality and impunity to an end," US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power said in a statement in January.
The FDLR has been accused of numerous atrocities, including murder, rape, and recruitment of child soldiers in Congo, and their dismantling could root out many other armed groups, as The Christian Science Monitor recently reported:
If the FDLR is defeated, many of the other armed groups in the region will dissolve – or so the thinking goes. “Many of them [the other rebel groups] will tell you that they exist because the FDLR is around and poses a threat to the local population,” says Timo Mueller, an independent analyst on eastern Congo based in Goma.
Evidence bolstering this hope lies in the local Tutsi armed group M23. M23 was taken down by MONUSCO and the Congolese Army in 2013, with some 4,000 or 5,000 fighters surrendering. Rebel groups that formed in defiance of M23 lost their central purpose once the group was demolished, Mr. Mueller says.
The Congolese government has yet to say if they will extradite Ntaganzwa to Rwanda after questioning in Kinshasa. Ntaganzwa was initially wanted for trial at the ICTR, based in the northern Tanzanian town of Arusha. But his case was transferred to Rwanda in 2012. The tribunal says it has indicted 93 people so far.
In Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, news of Ntaganzwa's capture came a day after the country marked the UN's inaugural International Day of Genocide on Wednesday with a ceremony at the Kigali Genocide Memorial, the final resting place for more than 250,000 victims of the genocide.
“We are pleased that he was arrested," Jean Pierre Dusingizemungu, president of Rwanda's genocide survivors' association, Ibuka, told AFP. "We think if there was the political will of the countries where these people are, they would all be arrested," he said.