September 12, 2011 / 5:19 PM / in 9 years

Rwanda says open to Congo warlord Nkunda extradition

* Laurent Nkunda under house arrest in Rwanda since 2009

* Rwanda says extradition possible, but no death penalty

* Rwanda worried about impact decision may have on stability

By John Irish

PARIS, Sept 12 (Reuters) - Rwanda is open to extraditing Congolese warlord Laurent Nkunda as long as he does not face the death penalty in his homeland, ministers said on Monday.

The former leader of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), a rebel force that repeatedly routed Democratic Republic of Congo’s army, has been held under house arrest in Rwanda since 2009.

“We are talking to the Congolese authorities with regard to his extradition, but it is difficult,” Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo told reporters in Paris on the sidelines of a state visit by Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

“It’s difficult for us to extradite a person to a country that has not abolished the death penalty even with certain guarantees,” she said.

Nkunda’s arrest heralded a new era in relations between the two African states, but what happens to Nkunda could still influence relations.

A United Nations panel reported in 2008 that the Rwandan army had supported Nkunda’s rebel war in eastern Congo and if Nkunda were to stand trial in Congo, and he confirmed the U.N. allegations of Rwandan support, it would be embarrassing for Kagame and could harm relations with Congo anew.

“There is also the political aspect which makes his extradition difficult because we in Rwanda want lasting stability so everything that has a tendency to destabilise and to take us back to the (era of) conflict and confrontation remains delicate,” she added.

Justice Minister Tharcisse Karugarama said that Nkunda’s position as a soldier with supporters and his own military force meant that his case could not be treated like everybody else.

“It’s a delicate issue not just about extradition, but generally legal and political aspects and the stability of the region,” he said. “It’s difficult for Rwanda, Congo and even Ndunka. We hope that soon there will be a lasting solution.”

The Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) has not indicted Nkunda, but has opened investigations into him and the U.N. has accused his CNDP of serious human rights abuses, including sexual violence and recruitment of child soldiers during his five-year rebellion in eastern Congo.

Nkunda could face a tribunal for war crimes, treason and desertion charges in Congo. (Reporting by John Irish)

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