Arusha, October 3rd, 2002 (FH) - Fortunes can change but not even the optimistic mind would have imagined the sight of 'Engineer of war' and governor of the Rwandan capital Kigali at the time of the 1994 genocide, Col. Tharcisse Renzaho, siting before a judge answering questions.

3 min 36Approximate reading time

Renzaho, 58, was arrested on Saturday in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) by Congolese authorities and immediately handed over to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). The morning after his arrest, the colonel was flown to the ICTR detention facility in Arusha, Tanzania. Renzaho made his first of what is likely to be countless appearances, lasting months and probably years, before judges at the ICTR on Thursday. Asked by Judge Andresia Vaz of Senegal about his profession, Renzaho denied having one at the moment but quietly added, " I was a military officer (…) a colonel. " Indeed, in his neat charcoal grey suit, white shirt and a checked tie, the clean shaven relatively short and stout man on the stand, looked more like a businessman than a colonel, stereotypically speaking. For several human rights organisations and genocide survivor's groups, Renzaho was truly a man at the helm of a business. A business in charge of killing ethnic Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus in the hilly city of Kigali. "Renzaho's office was the nerve centre for the planning of the genocide in the city. It was the office where the broad outlines and details of the policy of genocide were debated and decided, priorities drawn up and instructions delivered", says a report by London based human rights group, African Rights. The prosecution at the ICTR is still preparing his indictment. Renzaho has however been provisionally charged with three counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Much as his appearance in court on Thursday was not an arraignment, anybody following the proceedings would guess what his plea is going to be, come the indictment. The composed and sometimes smiley European trained officer asked the court to help him foot the bills for a defence team so he can "enlighten the world on what happened in Rwanda". Renzaho was appointed governor of Kigali on October 5th, 1990, four days after the beginning of the attacks by the predominantly Tutsi RPF (Rwandese Patriotic Front) rebels. His appointment to a position previously held by civilians coincided with a major operation in the city to arrest "accomplices" of the RPF. Thousands of Tutsis and Hutus opposed to the government were arrested and kept in detention for varying periods. According to an African Rights report titled "Colonel Renzaho. A soldier in the DRC?", shortly after taking office in Kigali "Col. Renzaho identified the local officials who were considered unreliable, either because they were Tutsi or Hutu members of the opposition, and took steps to put the right men in place. " The "right men", says the report, were those in favour of the genocide. As a member of the city "security council", Renzaho allegedly gave instructions to implement the genocide that were conveyed by officers under his authority. " The report further say that, "As governor of the capital and a senior military officer, Renzaho was in an exceptionally powerful position at a definitive moment. "The report also claims that at the peak of the genocide in 1994, as Interahamwe militias (a militia that participated in the genocide close to the then ruling party) combed though the city killing any surviving "enemies", Renzaho embarked on a campaign to cover up evidence of the massacres from aid workers in the city, and the international media. "He said on radio that state employees should come and help the workers in the hygiene section to clean up the filth from the town", the report quotes a witness as having said. "Filth", according to the report, meant corpses of victims of the massacres. After fleeing with the defeated former Rwandan army, Renzaho is widely believed to have fought in the following years alongside the DRC army in its war against Rwanda. In the Congo, he is also said to have helped in the regrouping, training and arming of ex-Rwandan soldiers, Interhamwe militia and other forces opposed to the new government in Kigali that have occasionally made incursions on Rwanda. Until his arrest, Renzaho was one of the most wanted men by the ICTR and one of the most elusive as well. Renzaho also appears on a list published earlier this year of some 15 suspects of the genocide for whose arrest the US government has put a $ 5 US million prize. He is known to have previously slipped out of the hands of ICTR tracking teams at least twice. The first was during Operation NAKI (Nairobi-Kigali) in Kenya. The other known escape was last year in Zambia. Besides the bounty on his neck, recent political developments in the region might not have played in favour of the colonel. One of the main trade-offs in a recent peace agreement signed between the governments of Rwanda and the DRC to end a four-year war was the disarmament and repatriation to Rwanda or the ICTR of suspected 'genocidaires'. A clear picture of Renzaho's status before, during and after the genocide will perhaps only show up after the prosecutor has rested her case and the defence is through with its side of the story. However, analysts of both the ICTR and politics in the war-ravaged great lakes region of Africa may never understand exactly how a man once considered a trusted and fine associate of the Congolese army came to be arrested one Saturday morning by erstwhile comrades. One of the curious persons may be Judge Vaz who asked him to describe circumstances of his arrest. "If it isn't so necessary, I would rather not say", responded Renzaho. GG/FH(RT-1003e)