Rwandan FDLR rebel leaders sentenced in Germany

Picture taken on March 31, 2005 shows Rwandan Hutu rebel Ignace Murwanashyaka of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda Image copyright AFP
Image caption Ignace Murwanashyaka, pictured in 2005, has been living in Germany since 1991

A German court has sentenced two Rwandan rebel leaders for masterminding attacks on civilians in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Ignace Murwanashyaka and Straton Musoni were accused of ordering militias to commit mass murder and rape between 2008 and 2009.

The trial took place under a law which allows the prosecution of foreigners for crimes committed outside Germany.

It was hailed as a breakthrough in bringing Rwandan rebels to justice.

Murwanashyaka, who is the leader of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), was given a 13-year sentence, while Musoni, his deputy, was sentenced to eight years.

Musoni was released immediately because of the time he has already spent in custody.

The presence of the FDLR in eastern DR Congo was one of the key factors behind years of conflict which have led to an estimated five million deaths in the region.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption FDLR rebels have been accused of carrying out attrocities in the east of DR Congo

The two men, who were arrested in 2009, had both been living in Germany since the early 1990s and from there coordinated attacks on civilians in the east of the DR Congo.

They faced accusations that they ordered the killing of people because they were not cooperating with the FDLR.

At the start of the trial four years ago, German prosecutor Christian Ritscher said "the two defendants had knowledge of everything, at least most of it".

The FDLR was established by ethnic Hutus accused of taking part in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, who later set up their base in DR Congo.

It became one of the most powerful rebel forces operating in the east of the country but has rarely infiltrated Rwanda.

Rwanda, now led by ethnic Tutsis, sees the FDLR as a threat to its stability and, along with the UN, has repeatedly demanded its disarmament.

It has twice invaded DR Congo, saying it is trying to prevent attacks by the FDLR.

The UN had been planning to launch an offensive with DR Congo's army against the rebels at the beginning of this year, but pulled out because of a row over the human rights record of two Congolese generals who were involved in the mission.

FDLR at a glance:

Image copyright AFP
  • April-June 1994: An estimated 800,000, mostly Tutsis, killed in Rwanda genocide
  • June 1994: Hutus - including some responsible for the genocide - flee into Zaire (now DR Congo) after rebels take power
  • 1997: Rwanda crosses border in pursuit of Hutu rebels
  • 2000: FDLR formed from previous Hutu militia
  • 2009: Rwandan army goes into DR Congo to challenge FDLR
  • 2009: FDLR accused of attacking civilians
  • 2015: DR Congo army begins offensive against FDLR

Will the FDLR rebels ever return to Rwanda?

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