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Rwandan rebel leader denies war crimes

THE HAGUE, Jan 28 – Rwandan rebel leader Callixte Mbarushimana protested his innocence before the International Criminal Court Friday in the murder, torture and rape of Congolese civilians, and demanded his release.

"I was in no way involved in everything that has been said," the man identified as executive secretary of the FDLR Hutu rebel group told judges in The Hague after a long list of allegations was read out at his first ICC appearance.

"All my life I was fighting injustice, hate of other people and all forms of exploitation of human beings and I shall continue to fight that in all its forms," Mbarushimana told the court from the dock, dressed in a dark suit.

"I condemn attacks against innocent civilian populations."

Mbarushimana was arrested on an ICC warrant in October in Paris, where he had been living as a political refugee since 2002, and was delivered to the world court on Tuesday.

ICC prosecutors suspect the 47-year-old computer technician of five crimes against humanity and six war crimes committed in the DR Congo\’s North and South Kivu provinces in 2009.

He stands accused of having "personally and intentionally contributed" to plotting "widespread and systematic attacks against the civilian population in order to create a humanitarian catastrophe".

The FDLR, of which Mbarushimana was a top leader, was "the last incarnation of the group of persons who committed the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, and whose activities in the DRC triggered the Congo wars", according to chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo.

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He accuses Mbarushimana of having organised a campaign of attacks against Congolese civilians from Paris, where he was working as a computer technician, "by regularly using international and local media channels".

Attacks perpetrated by the FDLR resulted in 384 civilian deaths between February and October 2009, as well as 135 cases of sexual violence, 521 abductions, 38 cases of torture and five of mutilation, according to the prosecution.

Among the allegations are that FDLR members forced civilian men to rape women, mutilated the genitals of rape victims, cut open the wombs of pregnant women to remove their fetuses, and burnt down homes.

Denouncing the "barbarity" of military force that has ravaged Africa\’s Great Lakes region, Mbarushimana insisted he was innocent and had been unfairly deprived of his liberty.

"I would like to ask the court to release me," the 47-year-old told judges.

His lawyer, Nicholas Kaufman, said he would file an official application for his client\’s release "in due course".

Presiding judge Cuno Tarfusser announced July 4 as the date of a hearing to confirm the charges against Mbarushimana, a procedure that has to take place before a trial date can be set.

Mbarushimana\’s arrest arises from a probe into alleged Congolese war crimes referred to the ICC by the Kinshasa government in June 2004.

The government in Kigali has said that Mbarushimana should also be tried for his alleged role in the Rwandan genocide of about 800,000 people, mostly ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus, for which the French government has put him under investigation.

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