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Africa’s most wanted man confirmed dead in a Zimbabwean grave

Africa’s most wanted war criminal has been confirmed dead in a Zimbabwean grave, decades after he fled international justice for his role in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

The remains of Protais Mpiranya, the leader of the Rwandan presidential guard indicted for genocide, were found in a Harare cemetery under a false name, the UN prosecutor leading the search for the genocide’s last fugitives said on Thursday.

Mpiranya died of a tuberculosis-induced heart attack at the age of 50 in 2006, four years after he fled to the southern African nation after being indicted for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, said Serge Brammertz, head of the UN body that is conducting the last international criminal cases arising from Rwanda and the wars in the former Yugoslavia.

“Confirming his death provides the solace of knowing that he cannot cause further harm,” Brammertz said. “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.”

After the killing of more than 800,000 ethnic Tutsi and moderate Hutus was halted by a rebel army, led by Rwandan president Paul Kagame, in 1994, many suspected genocidaires fled and spent years on the run from Kagame’s government and UN prosecutors.

International manhunts for Africa’s most wanted men were given a boost with the capture of Félicien Kabuga, an alleged funder of the Rwandan killings, in France in 2020.

But the search for Rwandan killers has been slowed by a lack of co-operation with the UN by the governments of African nations where fugitives are believed to have found refuge since the genocide. Brammertz identified Zimbabwe as the likely refuge of Mpiranya in a report to the UN Security Council last year.

Confirmation of Mpiranya’s death means that Kabuga, who is in The Hague after decades on the run, will be the last international trial over the Rwandan genocide. Five remaining fugitives are still being sought. They will be tried in Rwanda if they are caught, as part of a shift towards the use of national prosecutors.

Under Mpiranya’s command the presidential guard organised the murder of Tutsi opposition figures, assassinated the prime minister and worked with the Interahamwe militia to kill many more, according to his indictment.

After the defeat of the genocidaires, Mpiranya fled to Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where he led a brigade fighting Kagame’s government between 1998 and 2002, the UN prosecutor said.

During the war Mpiranya formed ties with Zimbabwe’s military, which had also intervened in the conflict. “Zimbabwean officials facilitated his entry into Zimbabwe, and Mpiranya facilitated the safe passage of his closest associates into Zimbabwe as well,” the UN prosecutor said.

Mpiranya’s allies went to great lengths to hide his location and death, and even his tombstone was “purposefully designed to thwart its discovery as Mpiranya’s final resting place”, it added.

While Mpiranya avoided arrest, “the final years of his life were marked by anxiety and fear that his location would be discovered and that he would be tried for his crimes”, like other Rwandan suspects, Brammertz’s office said. Mpiranya’s family remain in Zimbabwe, it added. — Financial Times