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DRC rape suspect handed over to Hague court

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 25 Jan 2011 16:01 GMT
Author: (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2011. Click For Restrictions.
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* France hands over Rwandan rebel group leader

* Preliminary hearing due soon, court says

(Updates with statement by ICC prosecutor, previous PARIS)

AMSTERDAM, Jan 25 (Reuters) - A Rwandan rebel group leader accused of mass rapes in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been handed over to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, the court said on Tuesday.

Callixte Mbarushimana, described as a senior leader of the FDLR rebel group, was detained in Paris on Oct. 11 after an arrest warrant was issued based on allegations the FDLR was involved in hundreds of rapes in the DRC's North Kivu province.

"Callixte Mbarushimana was a top leader of the Rwandan armed group FDLR, the last incarnation of the group of persons who committed the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, and whose activities in the DRC triggered the Congo wars," said ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo in a statement.

It alleged that he lived in Paris from where he contributed from afar to the group's "criminal plan", while for years it spread terror in eastern DRC, murdering, torturing and raping on a massive scale.

"Now he faces prosecution for his role in those crimes," the statement added.

The ICC said a preliminary hearing would be held soon, at which a pre-trial chamber would verify that Mbarushimana had been informed of the allegations against him and of his rights.

His transfer to the ICC was the first time France had handed over a suspect to the court, founded in 2002 with United Nations backing.

A French appeals court ruled in November that Mbarushimana, charged with 11 crimes against humanity and war crimes, be handed over to the ICC.

His arrest followed almost two years of investigations by France, Germany, Congo, Rwanda and the ICC. At the time, the ICC chief prosecutor described the arrest as a "crucial step in efforts to prosecute the massive sexual crimes committed in the DRC".

Eight years after a 1998-2003 war in which more than 5 million people died of violence, hunger and disease, Congo is still plagued by unrest. Rwandan Hutu and local Mai Mai militias are at large in its mineral-rich east and Ugandan rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army in the north. (Reporting by Sara Webb and Thierry Leveque; editing by Andrew Dobbie)

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