German police today arrested two leaders of the FDLR, the Rwandan militia that continues to terrorize civilians in Congo and exploit the area’s precious minerals. Ignace Murwanashyaka, who U.N. officials called the highest-ranking leader of the FDLR, and Straton Musoni, his deputy, were arrested on suspicions of crimes against humanity and war crimes.
German prosecutors said in a statement:
"FDLR militias are believed to have killed several hundred civilians, raped numerous women, plundered and burned countless villages, forcing villagers from their homes and recruiting numerous children as soldiers".
The FDLR is also deeply involved in the illicit mineral trade in Congo and is known for abusing local populations to extract the precious minerals that support the rebel group’s operations. A separate story by the BBC reports that rebels annually smuggle 40 tons of gold from Congo, using the proceeds to buy arms.
Deutsche Welle reports that while living in asylum in Germany, Murwanashyaka has “remained at the helm of FDLR’s activities, issuing strategic orders to his top generals via satellite phone or email and regularly keeping tabs on the FDLR’s activites.”
Mark Doyle, a BBC correspondent, linked Murwanashyaka to the illicit mineral trade:
“There is no doubt that Ignace Murwanashyaka has had direct command and control over some of the illegal mining activities of Rwandan rebels operating in eastern DR Congo. When I travelled in the area earlier this year with a BBC team, it was he who gave us permission to enter the rebel mining strongholds in the South Kivu region.”
Enough researchers Rebecca Feeley and Colin Thomas-Jensen had a similar experience in 2008 as they researched a report on the FDLR. On one occasion, an FDLR commander near Rutshuru called Murwanashyaka before granting Enough an interview.
The international community had known for years that the rebel leader was living in Germany. In March, a UN group of experts requested cooperation from German authorities to investigate Murwanashyaka. Prosecutors had apparently been collecting evidence against the two men for the past year.
Today’s arrest is a good start, but Murwanashyaka is not the only FDLR leader in the diaspora, and scores of perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity are living and working freely in countries around the world. Just today, the U.S. ambassador of war crimes Stephen Rapp accused Kenya of giving shelter to a chief financier of the Rwandan genocide. Hopefully, the work of German prosecutors will send the message that the harboring of international war criminals will no longer be tolerated.
Photo: Ignace Murwanashyaka