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Swiss arrest Rwandan war crimes suspect in Europe-wide swoop

Del Ponte praised the authorities in Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands for a successful operation


The United Nations chief prosecutor, Carla del Ponte, has confirmed that police in Geneva have arrested a Rwandan priest suspected of involvement in the 1994 genocide. Emmanuel Rukundo was one of three indicted war crimes suspects detained in a coordinated Europe-wide operation.

Del Ponte was speaking at a press conference in Geneva hours after the local authorities responded to an arrest warrant issued on Wednesday by the International Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania.

She praised the speedy and efficient manner in which the arrests were carried out, and the close cooperation of the countries involved.

Rukondo, a former army chaplain, has been working at a church in the Geneva parish of Grange-Canal for a number of years. He is accused of drawing up lists of Tutsis, which the Hutu-dominated military used to identify their victims.

The Swiss authorities say he will be transferred to Arusha, although Rukundo can appeal to the Federal Court against his transfer.

As he was being arrested in Switzerland, police in Belgium were detaining Emmanuel Ndindabamizi, a former Rwandan finance minister. Meanwhile, their Dutch counterparts captured the musician, Simon Bikindi, in the city of Leiden. Bikindi was a founder of Radio Mille Collines, which many believed played a major role in inciting Hutus to take part in the genocide.

The Rwandan government welcomed the arrests. "Rwanda thanks Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland for allowing the arrests of the three men and calls on other countries sheltering Rwandans suspected of involvement in the genocide to follow suit," the justice ministry said.

Del Ponte described the joint operation as a "great success". "All three are wanted for genocide, complicity to genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, and for crimes against humanity," she said.

She revealed that a fourth arrest was meant to take place in Italy, but the Italian authorities had refused, saying there was "no proper legal basis" for carrying out the arrest. The chief prosecutor said she was "stupefied" by the Italian decision and called on the authorities to fulfil their international obligations.

Del Ponte also made clear that although the three accused were arrested simultaneously, their cases were not necessarily linked. All had been indicted separately.

The Swiss military judiciary launched an investigation into Rukondo in September 1999. The information it garnered provided enough evidence for the tribunal to proceed with its indictment, said Laurent Walpen, the Swiss who heads del Ponte's investigations team.

Walpen, a former Geneva police chief, played down the fact that another member of the Rwandan Church had been arrested in connection with the genocide. He said the Church had played a "mediating role" in the conflict and that those priests who had been indicted had acted as individuals.

The arrest is the third carried out by the Swiss authorities against suspected Rwandan war criminals. One, Alfred Musema, was transferred to the Arusha tribunal, while the other, Fulgence Niyonteze, was convicted by a Swiss military court.

Walpen said he was aware that other suspects, including a former minister, were currently living in Switzerland.

The three suspects arrested today bring to 50 the total number of people in the custody of the Arusha tribunal. Some 200 suspects are still at large and are wanted by the tribunal, about 30 per cent of them in Europe. Of these, most are in Belgium, France and the Netherlands.

"To launch indictments against them, first we must have solid proof," said Walpen, when asked why the tribunal had not moved to apprehend these suspects.

Del Ponte has been critical of her prosecutors in Arusha, complaining that they had often failed to build strong enough cases against defendants.

by Roy Probert

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