The widow of Rwanda’s former President Juvenal Habyarimana, who is suspected of having instigated the country’s 1994 genocide after her husband’s death, was briefly arrested near Paris yesterday.
Agathe Habyarimana was detained on an international arrest warrant issued late last year by Rwandan authorities, who have called on Paris to pursue genocide suspects living in France.
She was later released but ordered to report to a French judge once a month and will be forbidden from leaving French territory, the Paris prosecutor’s office said, adding that it was awaiting a formal extradition request from Rwanda.
The detention comes just a week after French President Nicolas Sarkozy visited Rwanda, where he admitted Paris had made serious errors of judgment over the genocide and said he wanted all those responsible for the killings to be punished.
Habyarimana’s lawyer, Philippe Meilhac rejected the accusations against his client as baseless.
“Mrs Habyarimana is accused of every kind of crime – of being the brains behind the genocide, of complicity and other serious things, but absolutely no proof is provided,” he told Reuters Television.
Rwandan authorities welcomed initial news of her detention.
“At long last the long arm of the law is finally taking its course,” said Rwanda’s Justice Minister Tharcisse Karugarama, who declined to tie the detention to Sarkozy’s visit.
“It could be a coincidence, but whatever it is, it’s a good sign, its good news,” he told Reuters.
Rwanda broke off diplomatic relations in 2006 after a Paris judge accused Rwanda’s current President Paul Kagame and nine aides of shooting down Habyarimana’s plane in April 1994.
His death was a catalyst for the massacre in which 800 000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in less than 100 days at the hands of Hutu death squads.
Agathe left Rwanda three days after the plane crash and moved to France, but Rwandan authorities are convinced she played a key role in plotting the slaughter.
“Our priority is to have her tried in Rwanda because this is where she committed crimes against the Rwandan people,” said Jean Bosco Mutangana, the head of Rwanda’s genocide fugitive tracking unit.
However, a French judicial source, who declined to be named, said it was unlikely France would send her back home to trial.
Although Rwanda has abolished the death penalty, the central African country’s prison system could well be viewed as incompatible with European standards, the source said. Any extradition would have to be approved by the French government.
Sarkozy’s visit to Rwanda was aimed at trying to improve diplomatic relations after years of acrimony.
Rwanda has accused the administration of former French President Francois Mitterrand of having trained and armed the Hutu militias that were behind the killings.
Sarkozy stopped short of apologising for any French actions, but said Paris had failed to understand the situation.
Pic: Rwanada genocide victims