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High-profile Rwandan fugitive accused of funding genocide arrested in France

"The arrest of Félicien Kabuga today is a reminder that those responsible for genocide can be brought to account, even 26 years after their crimes."
Image: Felicien Kabuga
Readers look at a newspaper in Nairobi showing the photograph of Rwandan Felicien Kabuga in 2002. George Mulala / Reuters file

A high-profile fugitive who is suspected of being a leading figure in the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi ethnic group in Rwanda, was arrested near Paris by French police, the United Nations said Saturday.

After more than 25-years on the run, Félicien Kabuga, 84, a businessman from the rival Hutu group was arrested in the Asnieres-Sur-Seine area, according to the French justice ministry.

He is accused of funding the militias that massacred some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus, during a killing-spree in the east African nation, in 1994.

"The arrest of Félicien Kabuga today is a reminder that those responsible for genocide can be brought to account, even 26 years after their crimes," the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals Chief Prosecutor Serge Brammertz, said in a statement.

"This arrest demonstrates the impressive results that can be achieved through international law enforcement and judicial cooperation."

Kabuga, who until his arrest was Rwanda's most-wanted man, had a $5 million U.S. bounty on his head. He was living under a false identity in a flat in Asnieres-Sur-Seine, according to the French justice ministry.

Rwanda's 100 days of slaughter began on April 6, 1994, after President Juvenal Habyarimana and his counterpart Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi — both Hutus — were killed when their plane was shot down over the Rwandan capital. The attackers have never been identified.

The downing of Habyarimana’s plane was immediately followed by killings, as Hutu soldiers began trying to exterminate the Tutsi minority.

In villages across the densely populated country, neighbor turned on neighbor as 70 percent of the minority Tutsi population was wiped out — just over 10 percent of the total Rwandan population.

The fighting ended in July 1994 when a military force led by current President Paul Kagame, swept in from Uganda and seized control of the country.

The United Nations' Security Council, established the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in 1995 to continue the accountability process and Kabuga was indicted in 1997, on seven counts of genocide.

Since it opened, the tribunal has indicted 93 individuals whom it considers responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in 1994. Those indicted include high-ranking military and government officials, politicians and businessmen.

Once French legal proceedings have been completed, Kabuga is expected to be transferred to the custody of the United Nations' court, where he will stand trial.

Last year, Rwanda marked 25 years since its vicious genocide, with solemn ceremonies attended by several heads of state and a procession through the capital, Kigali.

President Kagame said Rwanda was rebuilding with hope and that his countrymen would never again turn against one another.

"We are far better Rwandans than we were. But we can be even better still. We are the last people in the world who should succumb to complacency," he said marking the anniversary.

A quarter-century after the genocide, bodies of victims are still being found. In 2018, authorities in Rwanda discovered mass graves they said contained 5,400 bodies of genocide victims.

Reuters contributed to this report.