YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

The World

U.S. Renews Hunt for Rwandan War Crimes Suspects

Africa: Tycoon Felicien Kabuga is first target of a campaign that includes rewards and a task force.


NAIROBI, Kenya — In the months preceding Rwanda's 1994 genocide, Felicien Kabuga imported thousands of hoes, machetes and a variety of other garden implements to use as weapons to kill hundreds of thousands of ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus, authorities say.

The powerful businessman also funded radio advertisements that urged fellow ethnic Hutus to wipe out the entire Tutsi race, according to U.N. war crimes investigators.

Eight years later, the 66-year-old Kabuga is still on the run, bouncing from European cities to capitals in Africa. On Wednesday, the U.S. special envoy for war crimes announced a renewed campaign, including a specialized task force and rewards of up to $5 million, to hunt down Kabuga and other alleged architects of the massacre of more than 800,000 people in the Central African nation.

"While they are fugitives of justice, they can run but they cannot hide," said Pierre-Richard Prosper, the U.S. ambassador at large for war crimes issues. "We are now in pursuit."

Prosper, a former Los Angeles federal prosecutor, said the Nairobi-based campaign to nab Kabuga and his cohorts showed that the United States was moving into hiding spots of people who committed crimes against humanity.

In Kenya, Prosper got assurances from top law enforcement officials, including Atty. Gen. Amos Wako, that they would support the U.S. efforts. Kenya has been accused of helping to harbor Kabuga and other Rwandan war criminals.

On Wednesday night, Prosper and a team of U.S. officials including Jendayi E. Frazer, President Bush's advisor on African affairs, traveled to Rome where they were scheduled to meet with Joseph Kabila, president of Congo.

Investigators with the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda believe Kabila's support is essential in bringing to justice some top planners of the Rwandan genocide, who now live in Congo.

Rwanda has insisted that its soldiers and Congolese rebels they support will not pull out of eastern Congo until Kabila's government stops supporting Hutu militias that participated in the genocide.

Prosper said he plans to tell Kabila, who is attending the U.N. World Food Summit in Rome, that the issue of Rwandan war criminals has to be resolved before peace can return to Congo.

Kabuga, according to Prosper, is among the most wanted suspects in the Rwandan war crimes.

With a vast empire that included tea estates, transport companies, a flour factory and numerous other business, he was considered Rwanda's wealthiest businessman until the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) army overthrew the Hutu government in July 1994, halting 100 days of genocide.

Kabuga belonged to the akazu, or little house, an elite group of Hutus who saw their grip on power threatened by advancing Tutsi rebels, according to U.N. investigators.

The U.N. indictment alleges that Kabuga used his riches to fund Hutu militias that butchered Tutsis and moderate Hutus. His money also supported Radio Mille Collines, which called on Hutus to fill mass graves with the bodies of Tutsis.

After the RPF entered Kigali, the Rwandan capital, Kabuga fled to Switzerland, where he deposited a large portion of his fortune, according to reports by investigators and observers. He later moved to other countries and continued to elude war crimes investigators.

In February, the U.S. government's Reward for Justice program, which offers large sums of money for information leading to the arrest of war crimes suspects, announced that it was willing to pay up to $5 million to learn the whereabouts of genocide suspects.

The offer failed to reap immediate success, so the United States decided to revitalize its campaign with wanted posters and fresh announcements that tipsters could benefit from millions of dollars. This week, advertisements bearing Kabuga's picture appeared in daily newspapers here in Kenya.

Prosper said investigators believe that Kabuga has frequented Nairobi and other Kenyan cities.

International Crisis Group, a highly respected Brussels-based think tank, published a report last year accusing top Kenyan government officials of helping to protect Kabuga from arrest.

The investigators traced Kabuga to houses owned by the nephew of Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi, according to the think tank. After searching one of the houses, investigators found a handwritten note suggesting that a Kenyan police officer had tipped off Kabuga,urging him to flee, according to the group's report.

Kenyan officials have denied sheltering any genocide suspects. Wako, the attorney general who on Wednesday shared a dais with Prosper, said Kabuga had previously eluded local police.

Francois Grignon, International Crisis Group's director for Central Africa, said that since the Sept. 11 attacks, Kenyan authorities have cooperated "more fully" with the U.S. war on terrorism.

"Kenya now knows that the U.S. is actively counting on its support," Grignon said. The new campaign "is going to put more pressure on Kenyan authorities, and the government of the Congo, to deliver."

Los Angeles Times Articles