LONDON (Reuters) - Rwanda’s intelligence chief told a London court on Thursday he would fight an attempt to extradite him to Spain, where he is accused of reprisal killings after the 1994 genocide in the east African country.
British police arrested Karenzi Karake, 54, at Heathrow airport on Saturday on a warrant issued in Spain, a move condemned by the Rwandan government as an “outrage”.
Ahead of Thursday’s court hearing, at which Karake was released on bail, Rwandan President Paul Kagame said “no decent person” could accept the arrest and thousands of Rwandans protested outside the British Embassy in the capital Kigali.
Karake was part of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), the then-rebel force led by Kagame that halted the genocide and now runs the country. To his supporters, Karake is a hero who helped stop the slaughter of 800,000 people, mostly minority Tutsis.
“Britain, where were you when a million Tutsi were being killed? But we know where Gen Karenzi was! He was saving lives of Rwandans,” read one placard held up by a protester outside the London court.
The Spanish warrant stems from a lengthy indictment issued by a judge in 2008 which accused 40 senior Rwandans, including Karake, of war crimes in the aftermath of the genocide. Karake is also accused of ordering the killing of three Spanish volunteers from a medical charity in 1997.
Dressed in a green and yellow prison jumpsuit, Karake held his head high, joined his fists and raised them as he entered the dock, drawing cheers from Rwandan supporters who packed the public gallery at Westminster Magistrates’ Court.
Asked whether he consented to extradition, Karake said from the dock: “I do not.”
Underlying the case’s importance to Rwanda, the country’s attorney general and ambassadors to Britain and Spain were in court, seated just behind Karake’s lawyers who included Cherie Blair, the wife of former British prime minister Tony Blair.
Karake’s lead counsel, Mark Summers, told the court the charges were political and that the “ostensible charitable organizations” that were behind them had links to the FDLR, an ethnic Hutu militia that played a major part in the genocide.
“The Spanish indictment seeks to criminalize the whole of the Rwandan government,” he said, describing Karake as “a man of impeccable character” and asserting that the U.S. government had described the indictment as “a bloated political tract”.
The RPF government has long accused Western nations of failing to act to prevent the genocide and many of them have acknowledged the failing and since poured in aid.
But some of the events that took place as the RPF swept through the country, forcing the Hutu “genocidaires” to flee, are in dispute and Kagame’s government is very sensitive about accounts of the period that contradict its official line.
In granting Karake conditional bail, District Judge Quentin Purdy said he was persuaded by assurances from the Rwandan government that Karake would cooperate with the legal process.
Bail was set at one million pounds ($1.6 million) and terms included a 12-hour night-time curfew and surrender of his diplomatic passport. A full extradition hearing was set for Oct. 29-30.
Additional reporting by Clement Uwiringiyimana in Kigali, writing by Estelle Shirbon and Stephen Addison