April 17, 2009 / 1:47 PM / in 11 years

Congo rebel Nkunda sues Rwanda for wrongful arrest

GISENYI, Rwanda (Reuters) - Congo’s rebel general Laurent Nkunda is suing Rwanda for wrongful arrest but he will ultimately be extradited back to Congo where he is wanted for war crimes, a Rwandan presidential official said on Friday.

Congolese rebel leader Laurent Nkunda salutes during a rally in Rutshuru, 70 km (45 miles) north of Goma in eastern Congo, November 22, 2008. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly

Rwandan authorities put Nkunda under house arrest in January. He is wanted by officials in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, where he is accused of crimes committed during his five year eastern rebellion.

“His application is being heard in court in Gisenyi today. It has nothing to do with extradition,” Yoland Makolo, press secretary for Rwandan President Paul Kagame, told Reuters.

“He was detained under conditions of war ... ultimately, he will be extradited,” Makolo added.

Rwanda has fought two wars with its much larger neighbour under the pretext of rooting out Congo-based rebels. The 1998-2003 conflict triggered a humanitarian disaster that still simmers today and is thought to have killed 5.4 million people.

But in an abrupt turnaround in relations between the two Great Lakes states, which previously traded accusations of backing the other’s rebels, Rwanda arrested Nkunda sent more than 3,500 soldiers across the border in January.

Nkunda’s arrest was seen as part of the deal that let Rwanda take part in a joint mission against the Hutu rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), which have been at the heart of 15 years of conflict in the region.

Tharcisse Karugarama, Rwanda’s justice minister, said Nkunda’s situation was unusual and must be handled carefully.

“It’s not a very common occurrence for a major-general from one state to find himself in the court of another,” he said.

“What happens to Nkunda either in Rwanda or Congo would impact either positively or negatively on peace developments in the region,” Karugarama told Reuters.

“On one hand, you have the political scenery that has to be looked at, and on the other hand you have legal issues that have developed.”

Kinshasa wants to put Nkunda, a Congolese Tutsi rebel, on trial for massacres, rapes and recruitment of child soldiers. He has not yet faced formal charges from the Rwandan authorities.

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