Paul Rusesabagina, the polarising hero of the “Hotel Rwanda” film, admitted to a Kigali court on Friday that he had formed an armed group but denied any role in their crimes.
Rusesabagina is famed for his depiction in the movie in which he is shown to have saved hundreds of lives during the 1994 genocide, which left some 800,000 dead.
After years in exile, where he has become a fierce government critic, he appeared under arrest in Rwanda last month, after apparently being lured into a private jet under false pretences.
In recent years Rusesabagina co-founded the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD), an opposition party based abroad.
While he has previously expressed support for the National Liberation Front (FLN), which has claimed responsibility for a series of attacks in Nyungwe, near the border with Burundi, his exact role has been unclear.
“We formed the FLN (National Liberation Front) as an armed wing, not as a terrorist group as the prosecution keeps saying. I do not deny that the FLN committed crimes but my role was diplomacy,” he said in court Friday.
“The agreement we signed to form MRCD as a political platform included the formation of an armed wing called FLN. But my work was under the political platform and I was in charge of diplomacy
Rwandans will vote in a referendum on December 18 on whether to amend the constitution and allow President Paul Kagame to remain in office until as late as 2034, officials said on Tuesday.
Under the proposed amendment, Kagame, in power since 2000, would be able to run for office again after his second mandate ends in 2017, first for a seven-year term and then for two further stints of five years each, stretching to 2034.
Kagame is the latest veteran ruler in Africa to attempt to extend his hold on power. Similar moves have already sparked violence and instability in Burundi, Burkina Faso and Congo Republic. So far there has been no political unrest in Rwanda.
“President Paul Kagame has accepted that a referendum be made on the current constitution,” the government said in a statement late on Tuesday after it had discussed the issue.
The current constitution limits any head of state to two terms.
The United States earlier this month said Kagame should resist the lure of power and step down after his second term to allow a new generation of leaders to come through.
Kagame won widespread praise for rebuilding the Central African country after a 1994 genocide killed about 800,000 people, most of them ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
While praising Rwanda’s economic and social development since then, human rights groups say the government severely restricts freedom of expression and brooks no dissent, charges the government denies.
The U.N. war crimes tribunal for Rwanda sentenced former minister Callixte Nzabonimana to life in prison on Thursday after he was found guilty of playing a key role in his country’s 1994 genocide.
The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), based in Arusha in Tanzania, convicted the former Rwandan Minister of Youth and Associate Movements for genocide, conspiracy, incitement and extermination as a crime against humanity.
“The trial chamber found that … Nzabonimana instigated the killing of Tutsis. It also found Nzabonimana guilty of entering into two separate agreements to kill Tutsis,” ICTR said in a statement.
The former Rwandan politician, 59, was arrested in Tanzania in February 2008.
Ethnic Hutu militia and soldiers butchered 800,000 minority Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus in the tiny east African country in just 100 days between April and June 1994.