March 2, 2010 / 2:35 PM / 9 years ago

Rwandan ex-president's widow arrested in France

PARIS (Reuters) - The widow of Rwanda’s former President Juvenal Habyarimana, who is suspected of having instigated the country’s 1994 genocide, was arrested near Paris on Tuesday, a police source said.

An international arrest warrant for Agathe Habyarimana was issued late last year by Rwandan authorities, who have called on Paris to pursue genocide suspects living in France.

Her detention comes just a week after French President Nicolas Sarkozy visited Rwanda where he admitted that Paris had made serious errors of judgment over the genocide and said he wanted all those responsible for the killings to be punished.

Rwandan authorities welcomed Habyarimana’s arrest.

“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, it’s good news,” he told Reuters.

France and 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, 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 her husband died and moved to France, but Rwandan authorities are convinced she played a key role in plotting the slaughter.

The head of Rwanda’s genocide fugitive tracking unit said it had asked for Habyarimana’s extradition.

“Our priority is to have her tried in Rwanda because this is where she committed crimes against the Rwandan people,” said Jean Bosco Mutangana.

However, a French foreign ministry spokesman said there had been no formal extradition request from Rwanda and a French judicial source, who declined to be named, said it was unlikely that the French 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.

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 apologizing for any French actions, but said Paris had failed to understand the situation.

“Errors of assessment and political mistakes were made here, and they led to absolutely tragic consequences,” he said.

Additional reporting by Hereward Holland in Kigali and Sophie Hardach and Jean-Baptiste Vey in Paris; Writing by Sophie Taylor; Editing by Crispian Balmer

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