, NAIROBI, Sep 24 – A key witness in the French probe into the 1994 downing of a plane carrying then Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana has died in exile in Norway, several sources close to the case said Friday.
According to the Rwandan news agency RNA, Joshua Abdul Ruzibiza, 40, died of a cancer on Thursday in Oslo, where he had lived for more than a decade.
Ruzibiza had accused President Paul Kagame\’s Rwandan Patriotic Front of being responsible for the downing of Habyarimana\’s plane, which triggered the 1994 Hutu genocide against the minority Tutsis.
The former RPF lieutenant claimed in a book that he was part of the commando unit that shot the plane down and became the key witness in the investigation launched in 2006 by French anti-terror judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere.
A lawyer for Rwandan officials targeted in the investigation said he had asked Marc Trevidic, the judge who took over the case from Bruguiere, to request more details on the circumstances of Ruzibiza\’s death.
"I have asked Trevidic to contact the police and judicial authorities in Norway and demand that it be urgently established whether the death was of natural causes," Bernard Maingain told AFP by phone.
"I had not heard anything about him being sick," he said.
Maingain was part of a group of experts, including Trevidic, who travelled to Rwandan earlier this month to hear witnesses and visit sites related to the plane crash.
Kagame\’s regime has always said that Hutu extremists were behind Habyarimana\’s death.
Ruzibiza had retracted several of his claims when he was heard in France following the arrest of Kagame\’s former chief of protocol Rose Kabuye.
He was heard again recently by Trevidic in Norway and, according to an excerpt of the hearing published by French magazine Mariannne, Ruzibiza claimed he had gone back on his earlier revelations following intimidation from Kagame\’s regime.
But Maingain argued that there was much more to the hearing than what was published and said of Ruzibiza: "We have lost somebody who could have provided very interesting explanations on how the investigation was manipulated under Bruguiere."
The probe has been a source of great tension between Paris and Kigali.