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March 01, 2010

Rwanda Welcomes Arrest of Former President's Wife

by Lisa Bryant

Rwanda has welcomed the arrest by France of the widow of a former Rwandan president whose death is considered to have unleashed the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

The arrest of Agathe Habyarimana comes at Kigali's demand - and takes place just days after French President Nicolas Sarkozy paid a groundbreaking visit to Rwanda, aimed to mend ties strained over the 1994 Rwandan genocide.  The Rwandan government accuses her of participating in planning the bloodbath that killed 800,000 people.

Habyarimana, the 67-year-old widow of former Rwandan resident Juvenal Habyarimana, was taken into custody at her home in a Paris suburb. She first arrived in France shortly after the genocide, and was refused refugee status here last year.

Rwanda has called the arrest a good sign from France. Alain Gauthier, who heads a group of plaintiffs who filed a complaint against Habyarimana in French court, also hailed the arrest.

Gauthier told France's RFI radio that Habyarimana had played an opaque role as the alleged leader of a group of hardline Hutu extremists at the time. He said if France extradites her to Rwanda it would be a first. He said Paris has previously extradited several people to the UN criminal tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania, but never to Rwanda.  

Habyarimana has claimed her innocence in the past, including in these remarks broadcast on France 24 news channel. She says the Rwandan government is afraid she will accuse it of being behind the genocide.

The Rwandan government has accused France of playing a role in the genocide by training and arming militia and government troops who carried it out. During his visit to Rwanda, Mr. Sarkozy described errors in judgement on the part of France, but he did not issue an apology.