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‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero’s family calls for an international trial

FILE PHOTO: US President Bush presents Presidential Medal of Freedom to Rusesabagina in Washington

NAIROBI, (Reuters) – The family of Paul Rusesabagina – hailed a hero in a Hollywood movie about Rwanda’s 1994 genocide but detained by Kigali this week, has demanded he be tried in an international court, his son said on Wednesday.

The Rwandan government dismissed the demand, revealed by his son in an interview with Reuters after Rusesabagina, who lives in the United States and had been traveling, appeared in handcuffs back in his homeland on Monday. His family said he had been kidnapped; Rwandan officials said he had been arrested on an international warrant on terrorism charges.

“Paul Rusesabagina is a Rwandan accused of crimes that were committed in Rwanda against Rwandan citizens and thus will be tried by a Rwandan court,” Foreign Affairs Minister and government spokesman, Vincent Biruta, said by telephone.

The former hotel manager was portrayed in the Oscar-nominated film ‘Hotel Rwanda’ using his job and his connections with the Hutu elite to protect Tutsis fleeing the slaughter. He later acquired Belgian citizenship and in a 2018 YouTube video he called for armed resistance to the now Tutsi-led government.

The Rwanda Investigation Bureau said he would face several charges including “terrorism, financing terrorism … arson, kidnap and murder”.

Relatives of Rusesabagina say they last heard from him in Dubai.

“If the Rwandan government think they have a solid case against him on terrorism charges or financing of terrorism, then they have to take it to an international court,” Roger Rusesabagina, his elder son, said in the interview.

The Rwandan government’s past attempts to charge his father internationally had failed, he said. “They tried to bring up the charges in Belgium and the charges were dismissed because they didn’t make any sense. The United States did not find those charges to be believable.”

The Belgian foreign ministry said Rwanda had informed Belgium of the arrest but declined to comment further.

Rusesabagina, who resides in Texas, U.S, was not likely to get justice in his country of birth, given the manner in which he was moved to Kigali, the son said.

“Kidnapping should not be the solution,” he said.

His father has been a strong critic of President Paul Kagame’s government, whose credit for returning the country to stability after the genocide, and boosting economic growth, has been tainted by accusations of widespread repression.

Kagame was declared to have won nearly 99% of the vote in the last election. One of his main opponents, Diane Rwigara, was jailed with her mother for more than a year on charges that judges later dismissed.

Rusesabagina’s family said it was now their turn to speak up for him.

“That voice of the voiceless is being shut down so he is going to need us to be his voice for a while,” said Tresor Rusesabagina, his youngest son.

(Writing by Duncan Miriri; additional reporting by Phil Blenkinsop in Brussels; editing by Katharine Houreld and Philippa Fletcher)

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