|FILE - In this Sept. 16, 2011 file photo, Rwandan rebel Callixte Mbarushimana sits in the courtroom of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands. The ICC said Friday, Dec. 23, 2011 it has freed Mbarushimana and returned him to France after dismissing charges against him. It is the first time that the court, based in The Hague, has released a detained suspect since it began work in 2002 as the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal. (AP Photo/Jerry Lampen, Pool-File)|
Rwandan rebel freed after intn'l charges dropped
THE HAGUE, Netherlands—The International Criminal Court freed a Rwandan rebel Friday and returned him to France after dismissing murder and rape charges against him.
Callixte Mbarushimana, who spent 11 months in detention, was the first war crimes suspect to be arrested and freed without trial since the court began work in 2002 as the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal.
The court said Mbarushimana, who had lived in Paris before his arrest, was "released on French territory, as he requested" through the cooperation of the Netherlands and France.
Mbarushimana was charged with five counts of murder, rape, torture and persecution allegedly committed by Rwandan rebels in neighboring Congo.
In a 2-1 decision, pretrial judges ruled last week that the evidence against him was insufficient to warrant a trial, and ordered him freed.
Prosecutors lost an appeal last Tuesday, but his release was delayed because he was still the subject of a U.N. travel ban. France asked for a delay to allow time to clear his transfer with the U.N. Sanctions Committee.
Prosecutors accused Mbarushimana of being a senior member of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, known by its French acronym FDLR, which is made up of former guerrillas accused of genocide in Rwanda's 1994 ethnic slaughter.
The group's killing spree in Congo in 2009 that left hundreds dead was aimed at forcing Rwanda to accept their return.
Prosecutors allege that Mbarushimana's role was coordinating "an international campaign of propaganda and extortion" aimed at furthering the FDLR cause.
Mbarushimana signed his name to FDLR press releases issued from Paris, but denied his group was involved in atrocities. He described the FDLR as a political and military organization intent on bringing reform to Rwanda.
It was yet another narrow escape for Mbarushimana, a former computer technician for the U.N. Development Program, who has evaded trial several times for the 1994 genocide and the ensuing struggle. Some half a million Tutsis were murdered by ethnic Hutus in 100 days in the summer of 1994.
Mbarushimana was arrested and held for two months in 2001while working for the U.N. in Kosovo before he was released because his indictment was faulty. Later he was indicted by the International Criminal Court for Rwanda, but again his case was dropped, apparently because the court was focusing on higher-level suspects. In 2008 he was arrested in Frankfurt when German authorities found his name on the U.N. sanctions list. He was released four months later.