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Zimbabwe recruited one of the world’s most wanted genocidaires in Rwandan, Protais Mpiranya


How Zim recruited, used, harboured and protected Rwandan genocidaire



How Zim recruited, used, harboured and protected Rwandan genocidaire

ZIMBABWE recruited one of the world’s most wanted genocidaires in Rwanda, Protais Mpiranya (pictured above), the last of the major fugitives indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) who spearheaded the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in the Great Lakes country.


 Mpiranya was recruited into Zimbabwe’s military campaign in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) from 1998-2002 to fight Rwanda and Uganda after their Congo invasion in 1998. 

There was a US$5 million bounty on Mpiranya’s head.

This comes as Mpiranya’s case has shaken relations between Zimbabwe and Rwanda which have of late been cordial as President Emmerson Mnangagwa reached out to his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame to forge friendly ties, leading to cooperation on many fronts.

Harare is currently lobbying Kigali to facilitate its return to the Commonwealth. Rwanda is hosting the Commonwealth heads of state and government summit from 20-26 June in Kigali.

Before Mnangagwa came to power, the British government wanted him to adopt the Rwandan model, which is why soon after his ascendancy he reached out to Kagame. Former British ambassador to Harare Catriona Laing, now in Nigeria, led the project as part of the November 2017 coup.

However, the Mpiranya issue was a bone of contention between the two countries as it bred mutual suspicion. Rwanda knew that Zimbabwe, considered a rogue state by some parts of the international community, had turned to Mpiranya to mobilise the remnants of the defeated Rwandan Armed Forces and the Interahamwe militia, which had perpetrated genocide in which 800 000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were massacred in 1994.

How Zimbabwe recruited, used, harboured and protected Rwandan genocidaire

The mobilisation and arming of the defeated old Rwandan army and its associated militia by Zimbabwe and its allied forces in the DRC unsettled Kagame who eventually opted for a peaceful resolution of the conflict to stop a possible irresistible pushback and march into Kigali.

The UN confirmed Mpiranya joined forces with the Zimbabwean military against Rwanda as commander of the Rwandan Hutu rebel movement fighting to oust Kagame after their defeat by the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front in 1994.

The UN said: “In 1998, the Second Congo War began, between the DRC government, supported by Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia, and Chad, and Congolese opposition forces, supported by Rwanda and Uganda.

“Determined to overthrow the Rwandan government and regain power, many of those responsible for the genocide and former members of the ex-FAR (Rwandan Armed Forces) joined the conflict as allies of the DRC government.

“In around late 1998, this Rwandan Hutu force — which soon became known as the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR) — was recruited from those who gathered in various refugee camps in the DRC, CAR (Central African Republic), Republic of Congo, and other locations.

“Mpiranya returned to the DRC at the same time to join the fight against the Rwandan government. As a high-ranking ex-FAR officer, he was designated Commander of the FDLR’s Horizon Brigade. He acquired fake identity papers, adopted the name Alain Hirwa, and became known as ‘Commander Alain’. He was very popular with his troops and his Brigade was revered on the battlefield for its effectiveness.”

Added the UN: “Between 1998 and 2002, Mpiranya’s Horizon Brigade operated extensively with the Zimbabwean Defence Forces (ZDF) in the DRC. Deployed together and involved in violent battles in the northern Kasai and northern Katanga provinces, the ZDF and the Horizon Brigade defended strategic locations on the way to Kinshasa and Lubumbashi, including Mbuji-Mayi, Pweto, Kamina, and Kabinda. They also worked closely together to protect the diamond mines in Mbuji-Mayi.

“As one of the key belligerents in the conflict and a significant supporter of the FDLR, the ZDF provided logistical support, weapons and ammunition to the Horizon Brigade. Mpiranya, as a high-ranking and well-regarded Commander, liaised with the ZDF leadership, coordinated with ZDF units, conducted joint operations with them, and established a close rapport with senior Zimbabwean officers. On at least one occasion, he travelled to Zimbabwe on behalf of the FDLR to receive military assistance.”

A former ZDF commander yesterday said: “We worked with Mpiranya in DRC, so that’s why the government and the army in Zimbabwe protected him until his death.”

Sources said Zimbabwean leaders protected Mpiranya, a mass murderer, before and after his death. Like birds of a feather, some of the Zimbabwean leaders who protected Mpiranya, including Mnangagwa, stand accused of genocide at home, the Gukurahundi massacres, allegations he denies.

After the UN yesterday confirmed the death of Mpiranya, there was loud silence and ducking and diving in Harare from authorities amid scepticism in Kigali.

Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa was also not picking phone calls and  did not respond to questions sent to her.

Her deputy, Kindness Paradza referred questions to the Foreign Affairs ministry.

Police spokesperson Paul Nyathi also referred questions to the Foreign Affairs ministry when asked if the police knew that Mpiranya was in Zimbabwe all along despite giving the impression to the UN that they were hunting for him.

Foreign Affairs minister Fredrick Shava and his deputy minister David Musabayana were however not  picking up calls. Musabayana did not respond to messages despite reading them.

Presidential spokesperson George Charamba was also not picking calls.

Survivors of the genocide were bitter Mpiranya did not face justice as he was harboured by Zimbabwe until his death.

Rwanda’s umbrella organisation for genocide survivor associations,  Ibuka, described the death of Mpiranya as a travesty of justice.

“The confirmation of Protais Mpiranya’s death is a loss to justice because he did not appear before courts to be tried for the crimes against humanity that he committed,” Jean Damascene Kalinda, a legal representative for the Ibuka, said. “The countries where he lived from 1994 to 2006 had the responsibility to arrest him, but they didn’t.” 

Mpiranya fought alongside Zimbabwe in the DRC, got guns and ammunition, training and logistics. In the process, he became an asset for Zimbabwe as it fought Rwanda and Uganda from militarily ousting the assassinated Congolese leader Laurent Kabila, an ally of the late former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe who died in 2019, killed by his bodyguard in 2001.

Mugabe defied most regional leaders and ended up clashing with the late South African president Nelson Mandela over the issue when he joined forces with Angola and Namibia to intervene to stop Rwanda and Uganda from seizing control of Kinshasa to topple Kabila.

Kabila was replaced by his son Joseph who was protected by Zimbabwean security during his presidency. The Kabilas were bitter adversaries of Kagame whom they accused of sponsoring instability in the mineral-rich eastern DRC where Zimbabwe got stuck during the pushback against Rwanda and Uganda.

After the death of Mpiranya in Zimbabwe in 2006, only confirmed through UN forensic investigation, including DNA tests after a protracted probe, there are now only five outstanding fugitives under the IRMCT’s jurisdiction: Fulgence Kayishema, Phineas Munyarugarama, Aloys Ndimbati, Charles Ryandikayo and Charles Sikubwabo.

Mpiranya had arrived in Zimbabwe in 2002 after the war, having been on the run since 28 January 2000.

A United Nations (UN) International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals was established after the ICTR to deal with the remaining cases.

Félicien Kabuga, one of the most wanted suspects of the genocide, was arrested near Paris, in France in 2020.

Of the 93 suspects indicted by the ICTR, Mpiranya was earmarked for trial by the mechanism.

The ICTR prosecutor requested referrals to Rwanda of the cases of the five remaining fugitives.

UN and military sources told The NewsHawks before and after the confirmation of Mpiranya’s death that Zimbabwe had recruited the genocidaire and his Rwandan forces and Interahamwe militias, who killed almost a million Tutsis, during the genocide.

The NewHawks previously travelled to east Africa in February 2020, just before Covid-19 travel restrictions, to investigate the case and met with UN officials in the Kenyan capital Nairobi. It met with the former residual mechanism top investigator, an Australian detective Bob Reid, now retired, and a Zimbabwean lawyer working in the tribunal.

Reid, who visited Harare previously looking for Mpiranya, was once the chief of operations at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, a law court set up in 1993 to deal with atrocities committed in the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

For 23 years, Reid helped track down and arrest over 160 war criminals and bring them to justice, including former Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic who was indicted at The Hague over charges of genocide and other war crimes before being convicted in 2017.

The military man, known as “The Butcher of Bosnia”, stood accused of two counts of genocide, five counts of crimes against humanity and four counts of violations against the laws or customs of war.

Reid, the investigator that The NewsHawks met, worked with Serge Brammertz, the chief prosecutor of the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia from 2008 until its closure in 2017, and now presiding over the Rwandan genocide cases.

Brammertz confirmed the death of Mpiranya yesterday, saying:

“Accounting for the last of the major ICTR fugitives – Protais Mpiranya – is an important step forward in our continued efforts to achieve justice for the victims of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

“For the victims of his crimes, Mpiranya was a feared and notorious fugitive, leader of the Presidential Guard during the genocide and later a top commander in the FDLR. Confirming his death provides the solace of knowing that he cannot cause further harm.

“The results of this investigation are also a testament to the United Nations’ relentless pursuit of accountability for those indicted for the most serious crimes. Nearly three decades after the genocide, my office continues to track fugitives and prosecute our remaining cases, like the trial of Felicien Kabuga, while also giving our support to national prosecutions in Rwanda and elsewhere.

“I would like to extend our gratitude to partners whose contributions were essential. The Government of Rwanda continues to be among our strongest supporters and played an important role in this investigation. Law enforcement agencies and prosecution services from Belgium, France, Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom, the United States, Zimbabwe and elsewhere also provided assistance. My office would like to further recognise again the excellent forensic support provided by the Netherlands Forensic Institute, which conducted the DNA analysis of Mpiranya’s remains.”

Zimbabwean police have for many years been trying to help, but without the active support of the political and military establishments.

The UN team visited Zimbabwe several times, including last month, trying to ascertain the whereabouts of Mpiranya.

This resulted in the formation of an inter-ministerial taskforce which included Foreign Affairs, Home Affairs and Justice to coordinate with the UN on the issue.

However, Zimbabwean political and military elites involved in the DRC War, including Mnangagwa and his deputy retired army commander General Constantino Chiwenga, were reportedly not cooperative.

The UN yesterday confirmed that it was frustrated by Mpiranya’s close associates who enjoyed the hospitality of Zimbabwe without any trouble from the government.

“After his death, Mpiranya’s associates organised his funeral while his wife travelled to Harare from the UK to attend. On 17 October 2006, a private ceremony was held at a funeral home in Harare, attended only by his family and associates. He was subsequently buried in a cemetery outside of Harare under the name Ndume Sambao,” the UN said.

“His tombstone was purposefully designed to thwart its discovery as Mpiranya’s final resting place. These efforts which continue to the present obstructed investigations and prevented identification of Mpiranya’s remains until earlier this year.”

Chiwenga was Zimbabwe National Army commander during the Congo conflict, working under the then Zimbabwe Defence Forces boss the late retired General Vitalis Zvinavashe removed by Mugabe in 2003 amid coup allegations involving Mnangagwa and retired Colonel Lionel Dyck.

Mnangagwa was a key player in the DRC War, although he was not Defence minister at the time. He was later accused by the UN of plundering diamonds and other precious minerals from the Congo.

Following the 1994 genocide, the Hutu-dominated Rwandan state security forces and Interahamwe extremists retreated to the DRC to seek refuge and reorganise.

The DRC, then Zaire, was ruled by dictator Mabuto Sese Seko whose grip on power was faltering.

Among the thousands of Rwandan Hutu forces who retreated to the DRC was Mpiranya, the Commander of the Presidential Guard under Juvenal Habyarimana’s rule. Habyarimana was killed under mysterious circumstances when his aircraft, also carrying President Cyprien Nyaryamira of neighbourting Burundi,  was shot down by a missile near  Kigali International Airport. His assassination ignited ethnic tensions in the region and fuelled the genocide.

Prior to becoming Presidential Guard commander, Mpiranya was second-in-command of military operations and intelligence in the Presidential Guard Battalion (S2 and S3 respectively). In 1993, he was appointed Commander of the Presidential Guard Battalion in the Rwandan army, a year before the genocide.

From the end of 1990 to July 1994 when he fled to the DRC after the genocide, Mpiranya was central to the planning, training, arming and deployment of security forces and militias to reorganise against the newly-installed Tutsi-dominated government.

The training largely took place in 1992 in Ruhengeri, Cyangugu, Gisenyi, Butare and Mutara areas, particularly in the military camps of Gabiro, Gako, Mukamira and Bigogwe.

The following year, 1993, Mpiranya ensured the training of the Interahamwe, the Hutu extremists militias, who were to run rampage, killing Tutsis and moderate Hutus during the looming genocide.

Under his command, the Presidential Guard and the Interahamwe blocked the January 1994 swearing-in of the Transitional Government despite pleas by the United Nations Mission for Assistance in Rwanda instituted to facilitate implementation of the Arusha Accords which were aimed at brokering peace and forming a power-sharing government.

Mpiranya and his allies were also disruptive and provocative in many other various ways during the time, including through protests and efforts to incite violent confrontation with Belgium soldiers who were helping the UN mission.

As tensions and hostilities escalated, Rwandan Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana was in the early hours of 7 April 1994 after the death of Habyarimana tracked down and killed by Rwandan security forces under Mpiranya’s command.

The moderate Hutu prime minister who was due to address the nation to call for calm was captured, sexually assaulted and assassinated.

That same morning 10 Belgian UN mission para-commandos were also brutally killed by Mpiranya’s forces at a Kigali military camp.

That led to the withdrawal of the Belgian contingent on 13 April 1994 and a drastic scaling down of the UN peacekeeping mission.

Concurrently, Mpiranya’s forces also hunted down Tutsi opposition and other prominent figures to kill them.

Among those murdered were president of the Constitutional Court Joseph Kavaruganda; PSD party chairman and minister of Agriculture Frederic Nzamurambago; PL party vice-chairperson and minister of Labour and Community Affairs Landoald Ndasingwa; and MDR Politburo member and minister of Information Faustin Rucogoza, together with his wife.

Between April and July 1994, the massacres intensified and reached alarming proportions, shocking the world.

Meanwhile, Kagame and the Rwandan Patriotic Forces were advancing and closing in on Kigali. 

When Mpiranya realised Kagame and his forces were about to capture Kigali, he retreated and fled with some Presidential Guard forces and Interahamwe militias into the DRC in a strategic retreat to reorganise.

After the war, Zimbabwe gave him sanctuary in Harare until his death in 2006. Endless efforts by the UN to track him down failed until confirmation of his death yesterday.

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