DR CONGO, Wednesday
A top Rwanda genocide suspect accused of planning the massacre of at least 2,000 Rwandan Tutsis during the 1994 genocide, was captured and arrested late Tuesday evening in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
According to Congolese officials, Gregoire Ndahimana, wanted for crimes of genocide and complicity in genocide, was arrested in the village of Gashuga at 10 pm by the country's armed forces. He was arrested after 15 years of hiding.
Ndahimana had been fighting with the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) in eastern Congo, a rebel group made up of those responsible for the genocide, which is currently fighting the army and the United Nations in the country’s troubled east.
However, Congolese officials said the fugitive had not been arrested in fighting, but rather during a civilian operation in which Ndahimana was caught by surprise.
“He was captured while he was coming to look for some food within the local population,” Olivier Hamuli, a spokesperson for the national army, said via telephone.
“For now he is in the Intelligence Office in North Kivu, and we are still waiting for the political parts to come together.”
Both Rwanda and Congo called it one of the largest achievements of the military operations against the Hutu rebels to date.
“We are happy for their service,” said Eugene Munyakayanza, a chief diplomat in Rwanda’s foreign ministry.
“He’s one of the big ones,” said Rwanda’s justice minister Tharcisse Karugarama, adding that the arrest was the first of its kind in recent time. “But others are still out there.”
Ndahimana is wanted by the United Nations specialised genocide courts in Arusha, Tanzania as a Category 1 suspect, a rank reserved for the chief planners and executers of the genocide that killed nearly 1 million ethnic Tutsi.
According to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, Mr Ndahimana helped slaughter thousands holed up inside a church in the town of Kivumu. He allegedly bought, and then distributed gasoline that was used to burn down the church with the victims inside.
He was also responsible for organising a night-time circuit of dumping thousands bodies into mass graves.
Ndahimana fled Rwanda to Congo in 1994 as current president Paul Kagame’s then-rebel force restored order to Rwanda and brought the genocide to an end. Ndahimana was one of the millions of Hutus who fled into eastern Congo, setting up the rebel group FDLR, whose mission has been to invade Rwanda and topple the current regime.
In May of 2008, the United States government put a bounty of $5 million on Ndahimana’s head, along with any information on his, or other genocide suspects’, whereabouts.
His arrest Tuesday night comes just after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the region, and as violence there has grown from bad to worse.
For over a decade, Rwanda and Congo have been at odds due to the peaceful existence of the FDLR members across the borders.
Rwanda has accused the Congo of supporting the group, and in turn the Congo had accused Rwanda of backing a myriad of militia that have rained destruction and pillage in return.
Both sides agreed in January to work together to solve the problem of the FDLR, but since then, the new operations have brought attention mostly for the carnage and horror it has brought to the Congo’s civilian population.
Secretary Clinton’s visit to the region highlighted some of the worst: thousands raped – women, men, children, then elderly – by both the rebels and the Congo’s own army. Watchdog groups say 800,000 have been displaced in the east sine January, and nearly 1,000 killed as well.
Arrests like that of Ndahimana have been few and far between. The ICTR and Rwanda both claim that most of the remaining Category 1 suspects are hiding in the Congo.
One of the most sought-after suspects is Felicien Kabuga, a businessman accused of financing the genocide, thought to be hiding in Kenya.
The ICTR threatened in March to take the Kenyan government before the UN Security Council over its failure to help track down the fugitive. Kenya froze the kingpin’s assets later in the year but the decision is now under appeal.