CAPE TOWN, June 20 (AP) — One of the last remaining suspects accused of masterminding the brutal killing of some of the hundreds of thousands of people massacred in the Rwandan genocide nearly 30 years ago, he Will apply for political asylum in South Africa after his eventual release. He has been tracked down and arrested, his lawyer said Tuesday.
The move could further delay the extradition of Fulgence Kayishema back to his home country to face long-awaited justice in his genocide trial.
Kayishema, a former police officer in Rwanda, was one of the last four fugitives pursued by the International Residual Criminal Tribunal of the United Nations on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity linked to the 100 days of terror in the East African country. 1994.
In 2001, Kayishema was accused by the court of being central to the massacre of more than 2,000 people who had taken refuge in churches in the early stages of the genocide.
The 62-year-old, who had been on the run for half his life, was arrested last month in Paarl, a small town near Cape Town, South Africa.
More than 800,000 people were massacred in the Rwandan genocide when militias, mainly members of the Hutu ethnic group, attacked their Tutsi neighbours.
On April 6, 1994, a plane carrying Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana, an ethnic Hutu, was shot down, killing the leader.
Kayishema is accused of being one of the leaders of a Hutu mob that killed Tutsi men, women and children who were hiding inside Catholic churches to escape the sudden outbreak of violence.
According to the charges against him, Kaishema and others tried to burn down the church but failed, then smashed it with a bulldozer, crushing the Tutsis inside to death.
Ultimately, more than 2,000 people were killed in and around the church, the genocide indictment against Kayishema said.
The U.N. tribunal wants to send Kaishema to a court seat in Arusha, Tanzania, before being sent to Rwanda to stand trial, but it is unclear how long it will take South Africa to extradite him.
After his arrest on May 24, Kayishema appeared in court in Cape Town charged with 54 counts of immigration and fraud of entering and residing in South Africa with false documents. Parts of the case have to unfold first. The extradition process was further clouded on Tuesday when his lawyer announced that Kayishema would now apply for political asylum.
Lawyer Juan Smuts told reporters after the hearing that Kayishema left Rwanda in 1994 “out of fear for his life”.
Smuts said he hid in at least three other African countries before arriving in South Africa sometime between 2000 and 2002. Smuts said Kayishema was 62, not 61 as previously announced by South African police.
Immigration and fraud charges against Kayishema will have to be set aside while authorities consider his asylum claim, Smuts said. South African prosecution spokesman Eric Ntabazalila disputed that and said the asylum application was not related to the criminal case against Kayishema.
Prosecutors will also soon file a case to extradite him for a genocide trial, Ntabazalila said.
However, any extradition could be delayed by at least two months after a judge postponed Kayishema’s South African court case until Aug. 18. He has entered no plea to any of the charges and has not applied for bail. He is in prison.
The killing at the Nyange church in western Rwanda was one of many horrific episodes in the genocide, and Rwandans welcomed Kayishema’s arrest last month. The court said he was one of the world’s most wanted genocide fugitives.
“I want him to be brought back to Rwanda to stand trial before the survivors of his crimes,” said Aloys Rwamasirabo, who survived the Nyange church massacre but witnessed the deaths of nine of his children.
“Many innocent people died at the hands of their leaders, including Kaishema.”
Kaishema did not speak at the latest court hearing, but smiled, waved and gave a thumbs-up to some of the family members who sat in court at the conclusion of the hearing.
Kayishema’s wife, children and other family members now live in South Africa, Smuts said. Kaishema was guarded by seven armed police officers who watched as he stood before the judge.
Kayishema’s case has previously frustrated prosecutors at the UN tribunal.
They tracked him down in the Cape Town area back in 2018, only to have South African authorities fail to act on the arrest warrant. Because of South Africa’s failure to act, Kaiserma slipped away and it took another five years to find and arrest him again, the tribunal said in several reports to the UN Security Council. (Associated Press)
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