Paris, March 2, 2010 (FH) - Agathe Habyarimana, the widow of former Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana, was briefly arrested for questioning on Tuesday in Courcouronnes (Paris region) by the French police executing  an international arrest warrant issued by the Rwandan government.

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She was apprehended at her home just before 8am. By mid-day, she was released after a judge had put her on a probation order which prohibits her from leaving France and requests her to report to a local police station every month.

Mrs. Habyarimana is accused  by the Rwandan government of helping to plan and organize the 1994 genocide, which claimed the lives of more than 800,000 civilians, mostly ethnic Tutsis.

Agathe Kanziga, her maiden name, was evacuated from Rwanda by the French military in the early days of the genocide. Having moved between various African countries, namely Gabon and the former Zaire, she finally settled down in 1998 in France where her six children were living.

In October 2009, after five years of legal procedure, she was denied political asylum in France.  Since, she had been living in the country without legal status, her continued presence being tolerated by the French authorities.

Her arrest comes five days after a short visit to Kigali by Nicolas Sarkozy, the first French President to visit Rwanda since the genocide. After three years of severed diplomatic relations, France and Rwanda restored official ties in November 2009.

In Kigali, speaking in the presence of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Nicolas Sarkozy stressed that "all people responsible for the genocide should be apprehended and punished (...) wherever they are." Without citing Habyarimana's widow by name, the French President went on to highlight that Paris "had denied political asylum to one of the allegedly involved persons". He added that the French judiciary was independent.

In an interview with the BBC, Agathe Habyarimana's French lawyer Philippe Meilhac reacted to the arrest by saying : "You cannot not establish a link (...) The extradition request from Kigali dates back to November and has obviously been reactivated".

For his part, the Rwandan Minister of Justice Tharcisse Karugarama told AFP that he "congratulated the French justice (...) It's a very positive signal, French justice is starting to handle the cases seriously".

However, it is unclear whether France will extradite Agathe Habyarimana. French magistrates have recently refused to send to Rwanda three suspects who, according to them, would not have the guarantee of a fair trial in their home country.

So far, France has only extradited genocide suspects to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), which is based in Arusha (Tanzania). Agathe Habyarimana is not wanted by the ICTR.


© Hirondelle News Agency