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‘Hotel Rwanda’ inspiration and hero of Rwandan 1994 massacre, Paul Rusesabagina, arrested on terror charges

Rusesabagina’s role saving refugees during 1994 genocide inspired award-winning film

Paul Rusesabagina with his wife Tatiana at the White House in 2005 after meeting President Bush

Paul Rusesabagina with his wife Tatiana at the White House in 2005 after meeting President Bush. Photograph: Susan Walsh/APJason Burke Africa correspondentMon 31 Aug 2020 13.40 BST

The Guardian, Monday 31 Aug 2020

A businessman whose role in saving more than a thousand lives inspired the film Hotel Rwanda has been arrested on terrorism-related charges in the small east African country.

Paul Rusesabagina, 66, was the general manager of a luxury hotel in Kigali, the capital, during the 1994 genocide, in which an estimated 800,000 people were killed with knives, clubs and other weapons.

The 2004 film told the story of how Rusesabagina, a middle-class Hutu married to a Tutsi, used his influence and bribes to save the lives of more than 1,200 people who sheltered at the Mille Collines hotel in the capital during the worst of the massacres.

The vast majority of the victims of the genocide were from Rwanda’s Tutsi minority, though some Hutu moderates also died.

Rusesabagina was paraded by the authorities at a press conference in Kigali on Monday after his arrest under an international warrant. The authorities said he was being held at a police station in the city and gave only minimal details of the accusations against him.

“Rusesabagina is suspected to be the founder, leader, sponsor and member of violent, armed, extremist terror outfits … operating out of various places in the region and abroad,” the Rwanda Investigation Bureau said in a statement.

The statement described charges including terrorism, arson, kidnap and “murder perpetrated against unarmed, innocent Rwandan civilians on Rwandan territory”.

Rusesabagina lives in Belgium and the US, where he was honoured by a Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honour, by the then president George W Bush in 2005.

He has been an increasingly outspoken critic of Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame, and has been accused by Rwandan prosecutors of links to rebel groups based in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo, blamed by officials for cross-border attacks.

In 2010, Rusesabagina spoke out against the jailing of the opposition leader Victoire Ingabire, and four years ago announced a political campaign against the Rwandan government, which he called a dictatorship.

Ibuka, a Rwandan genocide survivors’ group, has in the past said that Rusesabagina, who runs a humanitarian foundation, exaggerated his own role in helping hotel refugees escape the genocide. The 2004 film was nominated for several top awards.

Kagame is largely credited with the development and stability that Rwanda has experienced since the 1994 genocide. But he is also accused of extreme authoritarianism, including pursuing dissidents who have fled the country.

In 2017, Kagame won a landslide victory in a presidential election, securing a third term in office with almost 99% of votes cast.

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