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Rwanda-UK Relationship Tested by Spy Arrest

FILE- Rwandan President Paul Kagame lambasts the UK for arresting his spy chief

The arrest this week of Rwandan spy chief in the United Kingdom over alleged war crimes is seen by some as a test of the relationship between the two countries.

General Emmanuel Karenzi Karake, the 54-year-old director of Rwanda's intelligence services, was arrested at Heathrow Airport on Saturday. He has been granted bail ahead of a full extradition hearing in October.

Karake is wanted by Spain on charges of war crimes, which date back to the late 1990s.

On the day the spy chief appeared in court, Rwandan President Paul Kagame launched a furious attack on Western countries.

Addressing parliament, Kagame said "Absolute arrogance and contempt is the only basis for this arrest," adding, "They must have mistaken him for an illegal immigrant. The way they treat illegal immigrants is the way they treat all of us. Black people have become targets for shooting practice.”

"We cannot accept that people treat us this way just because they can," he said.

But David Himbara, a former top economic aide to Kagame and the Coordinator for the North American branch of Democracy in Rwanda Now (DIRN) disagrees, saying Kigali simply “doesn’t know how governments work in democracies”.

The arrest [of Gen Karenzi], he said, is not an act by British political leaders; the business of laws and law enforcement is done by Justice Departments.

“The Rwandans seem to misunderstand how governments work,” Himbara said. “This has nothing to do with political and diplomatic relationship of the two countries.”

Himbara told VOA that he is surprised by the reaction of the Rwanda government. “I would have thought that a case like this would actually help all parties involved.”

He explained that “Karenzi himself gets his day in a credible court so that this case is done with one way or the other. The government of Rwanda as well would benefit because they would get an opportunity to verify if indeed these indictments are bogus as Rwanda claims or they are real; and of course, the UK retains its reputation of fair justice”.

He said the arrest shows the arrogance of the [Rwanda] government. “They know that there are some indictments out there,” he said. “Even Kagame himself faced a lawsuit in the United States, and had to seek help from the [President Barack] Obama administration that actually applied for immunity for him to avoid the lawsuit.”

But this is a government, he added, “…that actually believes the whole world is at their mercy. These lawsuits are genuine; they are out there and can be enforced.”

He described Kagame’s condemnation of the UK, the West and some Rwandans in the diaspora as unfortunate. “The law is the law and must be applied evenly, and there is nothing extraordinary about this [General Karenzi] arrest.”

Himbara said that Kagame mistakes Rwanda’s political system – where he said the president influences all three branches of government – with Western systems, where the legislature, judiciary and executive branches each operate independently from the other.

“This speaks volumes about the leadership of Rwanda,” he noted.

Himbara said the president of Rwanda has done some amazing public relations in many countries and has powerful friends that speak for him. He cited very influential people, such as former prime ministers and former presidents.

Kagame’s government, he said, “is well networked with these powerful individuals, but he has mistaken this to mean the laws of these countries can be held hostage by a friendship.”

Meanwhile, Spain sent a formal demand to Britain on Wednesday calling for it to hand over the Rwanda's spy chief, whom Madrid wants to try for alleged atrocities in the 1990s.

Spain's National Court launched an investigation in 2008 into allegations of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and terrorism in Rwanda in the 1990s.

The court's listing of Karake followed an investigation into the murder of nine Spaniards who were working with refugees in Rwanda between 1994 and 2000.

It later shelved the first three sets of charges but "the case is still active for the crimes of terrorism" in the case of the nine Spaniards, according to a judicial source.