Frequently asked questions
See also: Why Agathon Rwasa?
Q: Who is Agathon Rwasa?Agathon Rwasa assumed leadership of the Burundian rebel group Palipehutu-FNL (commonly known simply as "FNL"), in the spring of 2001, after deposing the group's previous leader, Cossan Kabura. Prior to that time he was the FNL "chief of operations" around the Burundian capital Bujumbura. The FNL is a Hutu-extremist group linked to the milita who carried out the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
Forces under Rwasa's command have been implicated in a systematic campaign of attacks on civilians, both Tutsis and moderate Hutus. One consistent tactic has been the ambushing of civilian vehicles on the roads around the Bujumbura. The largest of these attacks was the December 28th 2000 massacre of passengers travelling on the "Titanic Express" bus. Six of the 21 victims were children. The dead also included several Rwandan students and a professor from the University of Butare, a pregnant woman, and a British aid worker, Charlotte Wilson. Hutu passengers were released unharmed - one with a chilling message for the Burundian government - "We're going to kill them all and there's nothing you can do". Although the Titanic Express massacre received widespread international news coverage, it was merely the largest among many similar attacks, most unreported outside of Burundi.
The FNL's Tutsi victims are often tortured before they are killed. One common method is the cutting of of the victim's nose, the shape of the nose being deemed to be one of the distinguishing features between Hutu and Tutsi.
The Hutu population in the FNL stronghold of "Bujumbura Rurale" (the hilly province which surrounds the Burundian capital) has also suffered extensively. Rwasa's forces have been ruthless in their treatment of Hutus suspected of cooperating with the Burundian government, and those who have refused actively to support the FNL. Reprisal killings and torture have been common. Even among the FNL's own ranks, Rwasa's reign has been brutal. Following an attempt on Rwasa's life in May 2002, one of Rwasa's lieutenants, Anicet Ntawuhiganayo, was reported to have been starved to death.
Rwasa's FNL has also been implicated in the recruitment of child soldiers. In July 2003, scores of children were killed after being sent by the FNL to attack Burundian government positions in Bujumbura. One child who survived reported being told by the FNL that an amulet he had been given would protect him from bullets. Photographs of the dead child soldiers showed several of them clutching amulets. An FNL sympathiser in Canada later claimed that his organisation had scored an important propaganda victory by forcing the Burundian government to kill children.
The most notorious FNL atrocity in recent years was the August 13th 2004 Gatumba massacre, in which 152 Congolese Tutsi refugees were shot, hacked and burned to death. The FNL claimed responsibility for the attack the following day, asserting that they had no fear of brought to account because the international community was powerless to do anything about it. They have since backtracked from this admission. Following the massacre, the international community announced a series of sanctions, and the Burundian government issued arrest warrants for Agathon Rwasa and the FNL spokesman, Pasteur Habimana. Yet when the FNL leader recently appeared in public for the first time, no attempt was made to arrest him.
The abuses committed by the FNL have not been the aberrations of a few "bad apples"; they have been central to the way that the organisation does business. As the leader of a group implicated in numerous war crimes, crimes against humanity and, arguably, genocide, Agathon Rwasa has a serious case to answer.