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Key witness gives account of Rusesabagina’s journey to Kigali

‘Bishop’ Constantin Niyomwungere on Friday, March 5, gave a detailed account of Paul Rusesabagina’s travel to Rwanda to the High Court Special Chamber for International and Cross-border crimes.  A Burundian by birth and a Belgian by naturalization, Niyomwungere’s name has been mentioned in almost every hearing involving Paul Rusesabagina, especially when it came to how the latter arrived in the country. Clad in a black suit with a clergy collar, caplet and sunglasses, Niyomwungere took the stand after prosecution said that his testimony was vital in responding to Rusesabagina’s latest objection that he was abducted, emphasizing that his arrest did not violate a single law. Rusesabagina faces nine counts linked to terrorism, and he is co-accused with other 20 individuals who were allegedly involved in terror attacks that took place between 2018 and 2019 and claimed nine lives. Addressing the court, Niyomwungere said that he came to know Rusesabagina in 2017 when he met him through a mutual friend.   While introducing himself, he said, Rusesabagina said he was a politician with a political party (MRCD) and an armed group (FLN), requesting me to link him up with Burundian authorities. Niyomwungere said that he linked him to an official working at the Burundian embassy. He added that he continued to be in touch with Rusesabagina, and that he went to his home in Brussels at least seven times. He continued to explain that at one time he was shocked to hear on radio that MRCD-FLN carried out armed attacks in Rwanda that claimed innocent lives. When I asked Rusesabagina, he admitted the reports and told me that he was not bothered by innocent lives that succumbed to his militia group’s attacks, but instead, the fact that the then Spokesperson of FLN claimed the responsibility. The Spokesperson of FLN at that time was Callixte Nsabimana (Sankara) who is also among the 21 suspects. “I was shocked and regretted being connected to such a person, when I am a bishop,” he noted. Niyomwungere went on to say that later when he came to Rwanda for work purposes, he was called by one Michel who asked him to meet for a few minutes, and afterward, when they met, discovered that he was a Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) agent. “He told me that I was suspected of being linked to terrorism activities and showed me proof that I was in touch with Paul Rusesabagina, who was allegedly commanding terror attacks in Rwanda,” he said. He added: “The officer among others showed me images of people who succumbed to FLN’s attacks and victims of the atrocities. As a bishop, I allowed to cooperate with RIB and bring Rusesabagina to justice.” He narrated that he kept Michel posted on his conversations with Rusesabagina, including the latter’s request to the former to accompany him to Burundi, where he would meet Burundian officials and his militia men on different occasions. Niyomwungere said that by then he was in Kenya, and that Rusesabagina was in the United States. He explained that Rusesabagina proposed him to pass through Dubai before boarding another plane to his destination- Burundi. “He told me that he would not pass through Europe nor Africa because of fear that he would be arrested, due to pending arrest warrant. He found me in Dubai, and I had told him that there was a private jet that would take us to our destination,” he added. Niyomwungere underscored that he had to lie to Rusesabagina about the jet’s destination so as to get him apprehended, adding that besides the latter who thought that the plane was heading to Burundi, the pilot, and cabin crew knew they were going to Kigali. When the plane touched down in Rwanda, he said, we disembarked and found RIB officers waiting for us, including Michel.  Rusesabagina was immediately handed an arrest warrant, he added. Asked whether they have something to say on Niyomwungere’s explanations, Rusesabagina and his lawyer said that his statements were not founded, requesting the court to consider their objection of Rusesabagina’s alleged kidnapping. Presiding Judge Antoine Muhima adjourned the case to March 10 at 2 pm, when the court will deliver a ruling on the objection.


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