May 20, 2020 / 1:02 PM / 7 days ago

Prosecutor seeks transfer of Rwandan genocide suspect Kabuga to U.N. custody

A French Gendarme, wearing a protective face mask, stands at the entrance of the courtroom before the initial extradition hearing for Rwandan genocide suspect Felicien Kabuga at the Paris courthouse, France, May 20, 2020. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Leading Rwandan genocide suspect Felicien Kabuga could be held initially in The Hague rather than Africa due to coronavirus travel restrictions after war crimes investigators requested his transfer into U.N. custody from France, a prosecutor said on Wednesday.

Kabuga, 84, was detained in a Paris suburb on Saturday after a quarter century on the run. He was the most high-profile fugitive of the U.N. tribunal which tried suspects related to the 1994 massacre of 800,000 people in Arusha, Tanzania. It closed years ago, but a successor body still operates there and in the Netherlands.

“We already requested his transfer,” prosecutor Serge Brammertz said in an interview as Kabuga appeared in a Paris court. It “is definitely an option” for a first legal phase to be conducted in The Hague, Brammertz said.

Kabuga faces five counts of genocide for having allegedly been one of the chief financiers of the Rwandan genocide, suspected of bankrolling and arming the militias that slaughtered ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus. He also allegedly funded a radio station known for spreading hate speech, the Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines, the indictment said.

Travel to Africa could be difficult amid lockdowns to combat the spread of COVID-19, but Kabuga could be held at a U.N. detention facility in the Netherlands where there are also courtrooms used to hold and prosecute key suspects of the Yugoslav wars.

Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg; Editing by Anthony Deutsch, John Stonestreet and Philippa Fletcher

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