When he turned on the radio last Thursday, some unlikely news greeted Rwandan ambassador to India, Lt Gen Kayumba Nyamwasa. A French court had indicted him of war crimes. The court, presided over by France's top anti-terrorist judge, Jean-Louis Brugiere, named Nyamwasa as part of a conspiracy that killed former Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana in April '94 and triggered one of the worst war crimes in recent memory. Over 8,00,000 Rwandans—mostly Tutsi tribals—died in the ensuing genocide that lasted a 100 days. Brugiere has sought international arrest warrants for Nyamwasa and eight others, all aides to present Rwandan president Paul Kagame, who took control of the country after defeating the French-backed leftovers of Habyarimana's regime and finally putting a stop to the genocide.
Brugiere, nicknamed the 'Sheriff' for his erstwhile penchant to carry a Magnum pistol, is famous for rounding up vanloads of terror suspects. He played a crucial role in bringing to book Carlos the Jackal and Libyan officials convicted of blowing up planes in the '80s. This time he wants Kagame and his aides, including Nyamwasa, brought before a UN court to be tried for war crimes and genocide. He is convinced that Kagame instructed his rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) to destroy the plane in which president Habyarimana was travelling.
"The investigations undertaken have clearly shown that for the RPF, the physical elimination of President Juvenal Habyarimana was the necessary precondition for seizing power by force, and was inscribed in a vast plan worked out to this end," reads the indictment. "The final order...was given by Paul Kagame himself in a meeting held in Mulundi on March 31, 1994."
"It is like a judge in Haryana indicting (President) Chirac to appear in court somewhere in Haryana for an alleged crime without proof," Nyamwasa told Outlook, in response. "How can it happen? It is not an international court. He (Brugiere) is not an international judge." Brugiere is trying the case because the kin of those who died in the attack, including the French pilot and crew, approached the French court in '98.
According to a report by international agency Human Rights Watch (HRW), Habyarimana died on April 6, 1994, when the plane bringing him home from Dar-es-Salaam was shot down. He had been attending a meeting of heads of state where he had supposedly finally consented to put in place a broad-based transitional government. The president of Burundi, Cyprien Ntaryamira, who had also attended the meeting, had decided to fly home in Habyarimana's plane rather than in his own. He too died in the crash as did General Nsabimana, chief of staff of the Rwandan army, and several others. The plane was hit as it was coming in for a landing, by ground to air missiles shot from a location near the Kigali airport. The Rwandan army later stated it had recovered two launchers from the missiles. The registration numbers on the launchers identified them as SA-16s, sophisticated weapons that require some training. Adds the HRW report, "The Presidential Guard began the slaughter of Tutsi and other civilians shortly after Habyarimana's death. Sixteen hours later, the RPF came out of their headquarters to engage the Rwandan soldiers and the war had begun again."
Brugiere's judgement, passed last week, has plunged the already strained relations between Paris and Kigali into a diplomatic impasse. Rwanda has since shut down its diplomatic mission in Paris and ordered all French diplomats out of the country. When contacted, the French embassy in India declined to be drawn into the issue, merely stating that the judiciary in France was independent.
How the arrest warrants will be implemented remains to be seen. Rwanda's ministry of justice has already called upon Interpol member countries not to give effect to the warrants. At the time of writing, it wasn't clear what views the mea had on the subject. Asked if he thought the Indian government would act on the warrant, Nyamwasa said, "India is a democracy with a functioning government and an independent Parliament and judiciary. It won't take orders from an obscure French judge. Colonialism is over. Those times are gone when they can indict and deport sovereign nationals. We are independent nations."
In fact, says Nyamwasa, "those named did not commit this crime at all. They weren't part of the army guarding him (the late president). On the contrary, he (president Habyarimana) was being guarded by French troops. The judge should be indicting them instead."
Rwandan minister of justice Tharcisse Karugarama backs him on this: "The French military guarded President Habyarimana, were his pilots and they, together with Habyarimana's presidential guard's troops, guarded the airport and the vicinity. It is on record that when the plane was shot down, the UN Mission to Rwanda (UNAMIR) officers went to the scene to conduct investigations and were chased by the French and Habyarimana's presidential guards. The RPF forces were nowhere near the airport or in its vicinity. It is absurd that the French government should indict Rwanda government officers instead of its own military and political leaders...."
Nyamwasa is still ploughing through the document—64 pages long and in French—a friend sent him. He's yet to read all of it, but prima facie he finds it rubbish. "This judge has even got my name wrong," he says. "I'm identified as Faustin Nyamwasa-Kayumba. I'm not Faustin. Were the Interpol to come inquiring, I'd have to tell them I'm not Faustin.."
As for the actual charges, the ambassador says, "The day it happened, I was about a 100 km away, in Mulindi Byumba. This judge alleges that one time I attended a meeting when we planned to kill the president. The source of this information is about fifth-hand. He has not asked us to substantiate it. Not one of his witnesses is first-hand. How do you rely on this sort of information as a basis of indictment? There was no such meeting. There was no such plan anyway."
Nyamwasa thinks the French government is behind all this. "It's what they wanted him (the judge) to do," he says. "Rwanda is an African republic where the French have repeatedly carried out coup d'etats year in and year out. If they had wanted it, they could have sent whatever evidence they had to Arusha (where a separate inquiry into the genocide is under way). France is causing problems in Cote d'Ivoire. Can Cote d'Ivoire now indict President Chirac?"
Nyamwasa, who became a colonel in 1993, was Deputy Chief of Staff National Gendarmerie in 1994 and has been accredited with the Indian government since April last year. He has been to France—Normandy to be precise—for military exercise as part of a training. This was in 2001, even as the trial was under way. But he's not going back there in any hurry, at least not in the near future.
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