From email@example.com Mon Mar 6 10:39:49 2000
'Explosive' Leak on Rwanda Genocide
By Steven Edwards, The National Post, Wednesday 1 March 2000
Informants told UN investigators they were on squad that killed Rwanda's president—and a foreign government helped
UNITED NATIONS - Three Tutsi informants have revealed to the United Nations that they were part of an elite strike team that assassinated the Hutu president in 1994, shedding new light on an event that triggered the genocide of at least 500,000 people in Rwanda.
The informants told UN investigators in 1997 that the killing of president Juvenal Habyarimana was carried out "with the assistance of a foreign government" under the overall command of Paul Kagame, now the vice-president of Rwanda.
The April 6, 1994, assassination proved to be a flashpoint in central Africa in 1994, igniting a bloodletting in which extremist Hutus targeted Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
The report, obtained by the National Post, suggests a critical moment in the Rwandan genocide has been misunderstood.
Before interviewing the informants, UN investigators believed that Hutu extremists within the family circle of Mr. Habyarimana had killed him, the report said. At the time, Mr. Habyarimana was involved in talks that aimed at sharing power with the Rwandan Patriotic Front, a mainly Tutsi rebel army in which Mr. Kagame was a military leader.
The informants told the investigators that the front decided to kill Mr. Habyarimana because the group was not pleased with the slow pace of the talks.
"This information fitted in with claims by the Hutu extremists that the [Rwandan Patriotic Front] killed their president," the report said.
But when the information was presented to Louise Arbour, then the chief UN war crimes prosecutor, she terminated the investigation, the report said.
Ms. Arbour, now a Supreme Court of Canada justice, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
The confidential report given to just three senior UN officials -- "This is an extremely sensitive document. The information it contains is explosive," one later warned -- raises new questions about how vigorously the United Nations is pursuing the leaders of the massacre.
In the report, three informants tell UN investigators they were part of the operation to shoot down the plane carrying Mr. Habyarimana; Cyprien Ntaryamira, president of Rwanda's neighbour Burundi; and other key officials. Two of the informants said they were prepared to work with Ms. Arbour to bring the assassins before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, which the UN Security Council established to investigate "serious violations of international humanitarian law" in the country in 1994.
They asked only that their safety be guaranteed.
"Their information and request was raised with Judge Arbour," said the report, dated Aug. 1, 1997. "Although she was at first very positive, she later advised that this issue was not within the ICTR mandate and would not be investigated."
A source linked to the investigators explained that she changed her mind over a period of two weeks. "The investigators had been working on this case for a year," the source said. "She waited until the investigation appeared to be on the brink of a breakthrough before she shut it down."
The launching of the investigation had been consistent with the Security Council's call the day after the assassination for the UN secretary-general, then Boutros-Boutros Ghali, to "collect all available information with all means at his disposal" on the attack and "to report to the council as soon as possible."
Ms. Arbour's decision not to immediately proceed with an investigation into the 1994 plane attack is not the first time the United Nations has hesitated in Rwanda.
Robert Gersony, who headed a team dispatched to Rwanda by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, reportedly estimated that from April to August, 1994, the Rwandan Patriotic Front systematically killed between 25,000 and 45,000 Hutus and others as it made its way toward Kigali.
However, the United Nations ordered Mr. Gersony not to document his findings in a report "because we didn't want to embarrass the new government," explained a senior UN official, who asked not to be identified.
Mr. Kagame is the former military leader of the mainly Tutsi rebel army that put an end to the genocide by taking power in Kigali, the Rwandan capital, three months after Mr. Habyarimana's death.
A Tutsi, he is considered to lead the country today as de facto president even though the head of state is officially Pasteur Bizimungu, a Hutu.
The United Nation's prosecutions office has depended on Rwanda's post-massacre government to provide security for its war crimes investigators working inside the country.
To date, only Hutus have been indicted, but shortly before she resigned last fall as chief prosecutor, Ms. Arbour launched a secret investigation into atrocities alleged to have been committed by the Rwandan Patriotic Front during the massacre.
The president's assassins struck as he returned from a summit in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where he was believed to have consented to a transitional government ahead of multi-party elections.
They fired two surface-to-air missiles at his Falcon plane as it landed at Kigali.
Besides the president of Burundi, the most senior VIP also on board was General Deogratias Nsabimana, chief of staff of the Rwandan Army.
The killing began within hours of the attack. Hutu leaders said the Rwandan Patriotic Front was clearly responsible, but the perceived wisdom was that extremist Hutus killed the president to end the peace talks and launch the slaughter.
The informants told a different story.
"Now our investigations have found three sources in the current Tutsi regime who say they were part of an elite covert strike team known as 'the network' and with the assistance of a foreign government shot down the president's aircraft," said the report.
"The investigation was shut down before the identity of the foreign government could be uncovered," said the source linked to the investigators.
During the French inquiry, evidence emerged that the missiles used in the attack had been confiscated in Iraq by the American military during the Persian Gulf war.
The United States is the only one of three major players in the peace process that has not held a comprehensive inquiry into the mass deaths. Belgium and France, both of which sent troops to Rwanda, completed inquiries in 1997 and 1998, respectively.
In a reference to the former chairman of the Rwandan Patriotic Front's military high command, the intelligence report says: "They advise that Major-General Paul Kagame was the overall operations commander."
Rwanda experts consider Mr. Kagame to be the current de facto leader of the country because he holds the key defence portfolio.
The report adds that the informants "provided accurate descriptions of the operation together with names, ranks and roles of each soldier involved.
"They also advised that they can produce hard copy documents of the operation."
The report was destined only for the investigations chief, the under-secretary-general, and one other senior investigator of the Office of Internal Oversights, the United Nations' internal investigatory arm.
The report covers the investigators' work from April 6, 1996, to May 1, 1997.
As is common in intelligence reports, a credibility rating is assigned to the details gathered from the informants. In this case, the rating was "two" (defined as probably true, but untested) on a scale ranging from "one" (true, corroborated) to "four" (cannot be verified).
Details of the missile attack and a list of network members as identified by the informants are contained in an internal memorandum that the war crimes investigators ordered hand- delivered to Ms. Arbour at her office in The Hague.
According to the informants, the Rwandan Patriotic Front spawned the network, whose "elite soldiers are activated and de- activated from time to time to conduct special operations," said the memorandum. "One such operation was the successful rocket attack upon President Habyarimana in 1994."
The network comprised 10 members all holding the rank of sergeant or more senior, the informants said.
"According to the sources," said the memorandum, "this group was advised to put in place a contingency plan to eliminate President Habyarimana on or about March 15, 1994, as the Arusha talks were not progressing to the extent hoped and anticipated."
The plan consisted of establishing five deployment points -- two in Kigali and three in the surrounding area of the airport, the sources told the investigators.
"This assignment was communicated through meetings," said the memorandum. "Never was there a specific written directive to carry out this task."
The informants insisted, nevertheless, that the leaders of the Rwandan Patriotic Front were "part of the plot to eliminate the president," said the memorandum.
In addition to alleging the involvement of Mr. Kagame, they also named Alex Kanyarengwe, the front's chairman in 1994. In 1997 he served as Rwanda's minister of internal affairs and deputy prime minister, although he is no longer in the government.
The informants showed the investigators three sites where they claimed to have planted rocket launchers and explained that two had been used to fire surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) at the president's plane.
Registration numbers on two rocket launchers recovered by the Rwandan army in the wake of the attack identified the missiles as SA 16s, sophisticated weapons that require training to be fired successfully.
Attack commanders controlled operations from three sites, according to the informants. Overall control came from near the airport at Camp Kanombe. This location doubled as one of the three rocket-launch sites, though it was not ultimately used for that purpose, the informants said.
Field control was "maintained at a second post." The president's aircraft schedule and other aspects of "initial control"
had been researched from a post in Arusha, the city where the UN war crimes court for Rwanda is currently located.
The memorandum states that one of the two men who fired the missiles later died, but does not say how.
The informants were in contact with the investigators as the network was being "reactivated to conduct high level assassinations of major genocide offenders currently living in and around Rwanda," the memorandum said.
"We have also been advised that there is a distinct possibility that the same cell was responsible for the recent murders of Medicines du Monde staff [three Spaniards] in Ruhenegeri in January, 1997, and UN human rights staff [five persons] in [Karengara in the same year]," the memorandum said.
"However, at this time, there is absolutely no corroboration of [these pieces] of intelligence."
No one has been charged in those deaths.