6 April 2007

Rwanda: Former President Pardoned

Washington, D.C. — Pasteur Bizimungu, the former president of Rwanda, has been released from prison after receiving a pardon from current President Paul Kagame.

Bizimungu walked out of prison on Friday after serving three years of a 15-year sentence for creating a militia, embezzling funds from the state, and inciting ethnic violence. He has always denied those charges.

The president of the Rwandan press club, Peacemaker Nvoingiramihigo, confirmed Bizimungu's release. He said over the telephone that people he has spoken with consider the pardon a "laudable act," particularly as it comes just a day before the thirteenth anniversary of the start of the genocide.

Bizimungu, an ethnic Hutu, became president when the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front took power after the 1994 genocide. He resigned in 2000 after a series of disagreements with the then vice-president Kagame.

"I want to thank the president for the pardon he has given me," Bizimungu told reporters after his release. "It has taken me by surprise."

"And I'd like to beg from you to spare me questions because I am tired and I am overwhelmed by emotion – so I can't talk more," he said.

President Kagame gave no reason for Bizmungu's release. "Based on the prerogative of mercy entrusted to him by the constitution, President Paul Kagame has today extended pardon to Mr. Pasteur Bizimungu and waived off the remaining part of his sentence," a statement said.

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