KIGALI - Days after a British newspaper reported that one of the most wanted Genocide suspects, Protais Mpiranya, is hiding in Zimbabwe, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) has remained tight-lipped on the possible whereabouts of the former top military officer.
The UK-based Sunday Times recently reported that Mpiranya, who is wanted by both ICTR and Rwanda, is holed up in Zimbabwe where he enjoys the protection of senior Government officials.
But the Tanzania-based tribunal, working around the clock to bring to book the remaining 13 top suspects still at large ahead of its December 2008 deadline, has declined to comment on the authenticity of the reports.
“It is the policy of the OTP (Office of the Prosecutor) not to make public comments about the operations, techniques and status of its tracking team efforts. We also do not comment on on-going cooperation with Member States on the issue of tracking and arrest of fugitives,” Timothy Gallimore, the spokesman of ICTR Prosecutor, told The New Times through an email.
However, the reports seem to be credible, at least according to two Rwandan officials, one of them a former leader of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a group composed of elements believed to have played a central role in the Genocide. Mpiranya, who had the rank of Major during the Genocide, is now a senior member of FDLR.
“I am not certain about his current whereabouts but as a matter of fact I know that in 2002 he moved to Zimbabwe from DR Congo fearing arrest,” former FDLR leader, Maj. Gen. Paul Rwarakabije, now a commissioner with Rwanda Demobilization and Reintegration Commission (RDRC), said yesterday. He said the last time he heard about the fugitive’s presence in Zimbabwe was in 2003.
Rwanda’s envoy to the ICTR, Aloys Mutabingwa said: “Sometime back there were rumours circulated by unknown people saying that he was dead; but reliable sources have it that he is in Zimbabwe. He has been in and out of that country several times.”
But Mutabingwa refrained from commenting further, maintaining that much as the top fugitive is equally wanted by Rwanda, ICTR has an upper hand as far as securing his arrest is concerned.
“The Office of the Prosecutor is responsible for pursuing his arrest through its cooperation channels,” Mutabingwa, who is currently in the country, said.
Major Protais Mpiranya was the commander of the then Presidential Guard (GP) before and during the Genocide, and is blamed for the murder of top politicians including then Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana, Landuard Ndasingwa, former head of the constitutional court, Joseph Kavaruganda, and others, on the first day of the killings.
He is also accused of ordering the execution of 10 Belgian troops who were guarding Uwilingiyimana, who is remembered as a moderate politician who stood up against the then Juvenal Habyarimana sectarian and genocidal regime.
According to Gen. Rwarakabije, Mpiranya holds no known official portfolio in FDLR ranks but remains a top advisor for the rebels, long blacklisted as terrorists by the US.
“He is one of the big fish suspects,” noted Rwarakabije in reference to the man who is among 13 most wanted ICTR fugitives who include the notorious Genocide financier, Félicien Kabuga.
UN officials reportedly said that Mpiranya had established business links with Zimbabwean army officers during the 1998-2002 DRC war in which FDLR and the Zimbabwean military was backing Kinshasa.