ARUSHA - Former youth and sports minister during the 1994 Genocide, Callixte Nzabonimpa, was arrested on Monday and transferred to the detention facility of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha, Tanzania.
Nzabonimpa was arrested in Kigoma, a Tanzanian town near the Burundian border.
He is among the ‘big fish’ on the list of the UN-backed tribunal, which closes its business in December, this year.
The other five are notorious businessman, Felicien Kabuga, former defence minister Augustin Bizimana and Major Protais Mpiranya, the former commander of the presidential guard.
Others are former minister of planning Augustin Ngirabatware and Ildephonse Nizeyimana, a former military officer.“His (Nzabonimpa’s) arrest was facilitated by the fugitives tracking team of the OTP (Office of the Prosecutor) who are working overtime to ensure that more arrests are done,” ICTR prosecution spokesperson Dr Tim Gallimore said by telephone from Arusha.
“We are still optimistic that the arrests will be made before the tribunal winds up; it will be done through cooperation which different countries,” Galimore said.
Prosecutor General Martin Ngoga on Tuesday welcomed the development and expressed optimism on the arrest of the remaining top fugitives. “There is no doubt to be optimistic because they (ICTR) have the capacity to do so, but it is always important that countries cooperate in the exercise,” he said.
He added: ‘It is also incumbent upon the Tribunal to be open and transparent in revealing the exact whereabouts of the fugitives.”
Meanwhile, when asked on the current whereabouts of Kabuga, Gallimore preferred not to comment. Kabuga, who is believed to be a key financier of the Genocide, was always reported by the ICTR to be in Kenya.
Nzabonimpa is the third fugitive to be arrested in Kigoma, a town on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, others being Jean Mpambara and Sylvestre Gacumbitsi, the former bourgmestres of the then communes of Rusumo and Rukara, respectively. ICTR later sentenced Gacumbitsi to 30 years in prison, but acquitted Mpambara.
Nzabonimpa was expected to make his initial appearance yesterday evening. He was due to appear before a trial chamber presided over by the tribunal’s president Charles Dennis Byron. A former core member of the notorious Mouvement Républicain National pour le Développent et la Démocratie (MRND) party, Nzabonimpa is accused of six Genocide-related crimes.
The UN Security Council has said generally it would not renew the tribunal’s mandate.
Rwanda remains the only possible destination of these cases in case they are to be transferred to any national jurisdiction.