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RWANDA: Ex-Pres Bizimungu arrested for illegal political activity

NAIROBI, 22 April 2002 (IRIN) - Rwandan former President Pasteur Bizimungu and former public works minister Charles Ntakirutinka have been arrested for engaging in illegal political activity, news agencies reported on Monday.

Chief Inspector Tony Kuramba told the Associated Press (AP) that Bizimungu was arrested on Friday after a raid on his home found documents indicating he was conducting illegal political activities designed to breed discontent and endanger national security. He faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of US $227 if convicted.

"We have been watching him for some time and noticed that he ignored government advice that he should not engage in party politics," Kuramba was quoted as telling AP on Sunday. "He did not heed the advice and began to spread rumors and anti-government propaganda causing discontent, divisions and fear in the population."

Ntakirutinka, the secretary-general of Bizimungu's unregistered political party, the Parti Democratique pour le Renouveau (PDR - Party for Democracy and Renewal) was arrested on Saturday after documents and computer equipment were seized from his home.

Bizimungu's bid to launch the PDR at the end of May 2001 was quashed by the government, who said it was aimed at "destabilising the country". Bizimungu was briefly placed under house arrest and all his privileges as former president were withdrawn. Two weeks later, three of the six founders of the PDR defected, the Rwanda News Agency (RNA) reported, citing the "promotion of ethnicity among Rwandans" as a substantial reason for quitting.

Under current Rwandan law, political parties must be approved by the government, but political campaigning is not allowed during the current period of transition to a new national government.

Bizimungu, an ethnic Hutu, joined the rebel Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) just as the movement was beginning its push into Rwanda from neighbouring Uganda. After holding a series of senior posts in the RPF, he was named president of Rwanda's government of national unity formed in July 1994 after genocide that resulted in the massacre of some 800,000 Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus. He resigned in April 2000, citing differences with the RPF, and was replaced by then vice-president Paul Kagame.

At the time, the BBC noted that the RPF had always resisted attempts to characterise the movement as being dominated by the Tutsi minority - making the loss of such an important Hutu figure particularly awkward for the ruling party. "The division of power between the English-speaking Tutsi Kagame and the French-speaking Hutu Bizimungu was a delicate balancing act intended to symbolise Rwanda's post-genocide reconciliation," a BBC report stated. Bizimungu's critics stressed that his departure was prompted by political and personal differences with his colleagues, downplaying any suggestions of an ethnic dimension to his resignation.

Theme (s): Governance,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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