PARIS, Oct. 11 (UPI) -- A Rwandan rebel leader suspected of war crimes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo last year was arrested in France Monday, officials said.
The International Criminal Court, sitting in The Hague, Netherlands, said in a statement it had grounds to believe Callixte Mbarushimana, the first senior leader arrested by the ICC for crimes in the DRC's Kivu provinces, is responsible for 11 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murder, torture, rape, attacks against civilians, destruction of property, inhuman treatment and persecution.
While thanking the French, ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said the arrest was a "crucial step in efforts to prosecute the massive sexual crimes committed in the DRC," where more 15,000 cases of sexual violence were reported in 2009 alone.
"We are grateful to the French authorities for executing the arrest warrant and we are thankful for the excellent cooperation of the many parties involved in the investigation, including France, Germany, the DRC and Rwanda," Moreno-Ocampo said.
As recently as August, Mbarushimana's band, the Forces Democratiques pour la Liberation du Rwanda-Forces Combattantes Abacunguzi, was accused of being involved in the commission of more than 300 rapes in North Kivu province, yet Mbarushimana denied any allegation against his movement, the ICC said in its release.
The arrest culminated nearly two years of investigations by France, Germany, DRC, Rwanda and the ICC into the Forces Democratiques pour la Liberation du Rwanda, the latest iteration of Rwandan rebel groups established by Rwandan Hutus responsible for the 1994 genocide of Tutsis and Hutu moderates in Rwanda, the court said.
"Their activities contributed to triggering the two Congo wars, ... which resulted in an estimated 4 million victims, the largest number of civilian casualties since the Second World War," the ICC said. "Since then, the FDLR has continued to commit horrific crimes against the civilian population."
Geraldine Mattioli-Zeltner, Human Rights Watch international justice advocacy director said the arrest of Mbarushimana "sends a powerful message that those responsible for horrific crimes will face justice no matter where they try to hide."