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Rwanda 'shocked' as France frees genocide suspects

  • Story Highlights
  • Two Rwandans were indicted by Kigali and international court over atrocities
  • "Going ahead to release such suspects accused of ... genocide is absurd"
  • Rwanda wanted men, who have both lived in France for years, extradited
  • Paris appeals court ruled their arrest procedure was flawed legally
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KIGALI, Rwanda (Reuters) -- Rwanda is shocked by a French appeals court ruling that freed two Rwandans indicted by Kigali and an international court over the country's 1994 genocide, and its foreign minister called the decision absurd on Thursday.

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One of Wenceslas Munyeshyaka's lawyers, Thierry Massis, left, talks to the media on July 25 in a Paris court.

"We are shocked and surprised by the decision ... Going ahead to release such suspects accused of the biggest crimes like genocide is absurd," Rwandan Foreign Minister Charles Murigande told Reuters.

Rwanda wanted Roman Catholic priest Wenceslas Munyeshyaka and another man, Laurent Bucyibaruta, who have both lived in France for years, to be extradited.

The two men were arrested this month by French police under a warrant from the Tanzania-based International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, which is prosecuting top architects of the genocide.

The Paris appeals court ruled on Wednesday that the arrest procedure was flawed legally.

"They claim the warrants had defects in writing, but we believe they should have held them while the mistakes in the warrants were sorted out," Murigande said in Kigali.

A spokeswoman for the public prosecutor's office in Paris said the appeals court ruled arrest warrants could be issued for the ICTR only in cases where the ICTR was seeking to judge msuspects itself or if there was concern the suspects might flee.

However, the applications filed specified only that the two should be arrested pending a decision by the ICTR on whether it wished to judge the case or hand it to authorities in France, where both have been under investigation for several years.

Both men are under so-called judicial supervision in France, roughly equivalent to being on probation.

Their release came shortly after French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said he would probably visit Rwanda "very soon" in a move that would signal a thaw in relations after Kigali canceled diplomatic ties with Paris last year.

The French Foreign Ministry said it hoped the ruling would not damage improving relations between the two countries.

"We hope that the rapprochement between Paris and Kigali, which is something we want to see, and which apparently the Rwandan authorities also want, is not put into question," a foreign ministry spokesman said.

The Rwandan move to cut ties followed a French judge's call for President Paul Kagame to be charged with the death of his predecessor in April 1994, an event that unleashed the genocide in which some 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus died.

Former rebel leader Kagame and other critics accuse France of covering up its role in training troops who carried out the massacres in the central African country and propping up the Hutu political leaders who deployed them.

France denies the charge and says its forces helped protect people during a U.N.-sanctioned mission in Rwanda at the time.

The Rwandan representative at the ICTR was quoted by the BBC as saying the French court's decision could have been politically motivated. "There is lots of politicking about genocide cases," the BBC quoted Aloys Mutabingwa as saying.

Kagame's Tutsi-led Rwandan government wants Munyeshyaka to be sent to Rwanda to serve a life sentence after he was tried and sentenced in absentia. It wanted Bucyibaruta to stand trial.

The ICTR has charged Bucyibaruta, a former top local official in Gikongoro district, with genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, extermination, murder and rape.

Munyeshyaka, former head of the Sainte-Famille parish in Kigali, was sentenced in absentia to life in jail in November by a military tribunal for complicity in genocide and rape. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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