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War crimes court affirms decision to release alleged Rwandan rebel leader

By Kathryn Tancos, CNN
updated 3:24 PM EST, Tue December 20, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Callixte Mbarushimana is asking to be returned to France, where he had refugee status
  • "Judges have rejected the appeal to stop his release," an ICC spokeswoman says
  • Mbarushimana is alleged to be a senior member of a Rwandan rebel group

(CNN) -- Alleged Rwandan rebel leader Callixte Mbarushimana is one step closer to freedom after judges at the International Criminal Court rejected an appeal by the chief prosecutor Tuesday to halt his release.

"Judges have rejected the appeal to stop his release," said Sonia Robla, ICC spokeswoman.

On Friday, judges dismissed charges against Mbarushimana, citing insufficient evidence to hold him criminally responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in 2009.

Mbarushimana, accused of being a senior member of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR, faced eight counts of war crimes and five counts of crimes against humanity including rape and murder.

The ICC says the FDLR instigated war in Congo as part of its efforts to topple the government in neighboring Rwanda.

It is unclear when Mbarushimana will be released. According to court documents, he indicated he wanted to return France, where he was arrested last year, pending the lifting of a travel ban by the U.N. Security Council.

"The Security Council has been notified," Robla said.

Until the council acts on the travel ban, the ICC Registry said, "it has no solution but to wait from the completion of the necessary arrangements required by Mr. Mbarushimana's release."

According to Robla, this is the first time the ICC will release anyone from its custody since the court officially opened in 2004.

Calls seeking comment from the chief prosecutor's office have gone unanswered.

Mbarushimana left Rwanda in the aftermath of the war and worked for the United Nations until he was dismissed in 2001 when it was revealed that he was the subject of an investigation by the United Nations' own criminal tribunal for Rwanda.

In 2005, CNN spoke with Mbarushimana in France, where he had refugee status. He maintained his innocence.

"I am not afraid of justice. What I am afraid of is injustice, like what is taking place in Rwanda for instance, where people are not really tried properly," he said then.

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