Rwanda rebel Callixte Mbarushimana at war crimes court

Callixte Mbarushimana Callixte Mbarushimana is accused of ordering atrocities from exile in Paris

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A Rwandan rebel leader accused of "spreading terror" in Democratic Republic of Congo has appeared before war crimes judges in The Hague.

Callixte Mbarushimana told the International Criminal Court he was "in no way involved" in such crimes.

The Hutu rebel leader, yet to enter a formal plea, denies ordering his FDLR fighters to kill and rape civilians.

The presence of Hutu rebel groups in DR Congo has been at the heart of years of unrest in the region.

Mr Mbarushimana, 47, faces five counts of crimes against humanity and six counts of war crimes - including charges of murder, torture, rape, inhumane acts and persecution, and destruction of property.

He has been living in exile in France since 2002, but ICC prosecutors say he controlled rebels who have continued to carry out atrocities.

"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 DRC [DR Congo] triggered the Congo wars," the ICC said in a statement.

Troublesome neighbours

Rwanda map
  • April-June 1994: Genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda
  • June 1994: Paul Kagame's Tutsi rebels take power in Rwanda, Hutus flee into Zaire (DR Congo)
  • Rwanda's army enters eastern Zaire to pursue Hutu fighters
  • 1997: Laurent Kabila's AFDL, backed by Rwanda, takes power in Kinshasa

"He lived in Paris, France, contributing from afar to the group's criminal plan, while FDLR troops continued for years to spread terror in eastern DRC, murdering, torturing and raping on a massive scale."

The FDLR is now one of the most powerful rebel forces operating in eastern DR Congo, where it is believed to make millions of dollars a year by controlling mines rich in gold and other minerals and extorting money from local people.

ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said the prosecution of the FDLR leaders "will provide the opportunity to demobilise this armed group".

"Rape can no longer be used as a weapon of war. In the ICC era, the fate of leaders and commanders who plan or oversee campaigns of mass crimes against civilians is to face justice," he said.

Mr Mbarushimana has described the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) as a freedom movement.

He says it is fighting "to liberate the Rwandan people from the yoke of the fascist regime" of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).

The Tutsi-dominated RPF came to power in Rwanda after the 1994 genocide, when many FDLR members fled across the border, sparking years of unrest in the region.

A 1998-2003 conflict in DR Congo is estimated to have caused the deaths of five million people.

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