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Rwandan Court to Decide Fate of Congolese Rebel Leader

A Rwandan court is expected to rule today (Wednesday) on possibly releasing Democratic Republic of Congo renegade army general Laurent Nkunda after he was arrested crossing the Congo border into Rwanda. Nkunda's attorney contends that Kigali has flouted its constitution by remanding the former rebel leader in prison for at least 45 days without putting him on trial. Kinshasa has indicted the former rebel leader for war crimes after leading the National Congress for People's Defense (CNDP) rebel forces that often clashed with the national army in restive North Kivu province. There are ongoing negotiations between Kigali and Kinshasa over a possible extradition of the renegade army general. Jean Bosco Gasasira is the editor of Umuvugizi Independent Newspaper. He tells reporter Peter Clottey that both Congolese and Rwandese are anxiously waiting for the count's decision.

"Today the court is going to make a judgment or a decision on a suit filed by the attorney of General Laurent Nkunda who says his client was illegally arrested. He also said that it was illegal for the rebel leader to be on Rwanda's soils, adding that he (Nkunda) has been arrested for over 45 days. The lawyer also said the Rwandan authorities have so far failed to inform the rebel leader's family about his whereabouts or his condition after his arrest. So he called on Rwanda to immediately release the rebel leader or put him to justice," Gasasira noted.

He said the renegade general's attorney forcefully contends that ongoing negotiations between Kigali and Kinshasa over the extradition of Nkunda have no basis in law.

"Nkunda's lawyer, who usually deals with international cases, was saying that whatever Kigali and Kinshasa have been discussing is supposed to be diplomatic, which should stay that way and not be brought into the courtroom," he said.

Gasasira said the rebel leader's attorney argued that since the Democratic Republic of Congo still has the death penalty on its statute books, Nkunda should not be extradited there.

"He was saying that since Kigali has suspended the death penalty, the rebel leader should be either prosecuted there or sent somewhere else, saying that the Democratic Republic of Congo has so far not suspended the death sentence, which the attorney said once found guilty the rebel leader will be put to death. He therefore called on Kigali to withhold Kinshasa's request to extradite the former rebel leader to Congo," Gasasira pointed out.

He said Rwandan authorities have been economical about the whereabouts of the rebel leader.

"It is like a cat and mouse game in the courtroom because the lawyers representing the Rwanda government were saying that they don't know and are not competent enough to talk about where the rebel leader is. Nkunda's lawyer, on the other hand, told the court as well as the media that he had tried all he could, including the Rwandan authorities, about his client's whereabouts, but they all claimed they don't know where the rebel leader is being held," he said.

Gasasira said Nkunda's attorney claims he and the rebel leader's family have so far been prevented from having access to Nkunda.

"The lawyer also said that Kigali has so far refused to let the rebel leader's family have access to him, adding that the only information they have is after President Paul Kagame said in a recent press conference that the rebel leader is in Kigali's custody and that the Rwanda's foreign minister also says Nkunda is in Rwanda," he said.