By James Tasamba
KIGALI, Rwanda (AA) - A lawyer in Rwanda on Monday called for 25 suspected rebels who were recently captured to be prosecuted in a civilian court, arguing that her clients are not soldiers and therefore should not face a military trial.
Counsel to the accused Paula Umulisa raised her opposition to a military trial as a hearing resumed at a military tribunal in the capital, Kigali.
“We don’t understand why civilians are appearing in a military court,” said Umulisa, singling out one senior suspect, Habib Madhatiru, 53, who she said had retired from the Rwandan army.
But after closed-door deliberations, the court ruled it has the mandate to try the case.
The prosecution had argued that the suspects are linked to a military case, so they need to face a military trial.
The court then adjourned the case until Oct. 18.
The suspects, who were captured in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) during an operation, first appeared in court two weeks ago.
They were charged on four counts, including belonging to an illegal armed outfit, treason, forming an illegal army and plotting with foreign countries to destabilize Rwanda.
The group is accused of belonging to the Rwanda National Congress (RNC) based in the DRC and listed in Rwanda as a terrorist organization.
Twenty three of the suspects are together being represented by 12 lawyers.
Habib Madhatiru, a former Rwandan army officer who was captured in the DRC while allegedly preparing to attack Rwanda, is being represented by one lawyer, while another suspect chose to argue his case.
Among the suspects are at least six foreign nationals, including a Malawian and some Burundians and Ugandans.
The allegations against Madhatiru include being in charge of training recruits on behalf of the RNC.
The RNC was formed by Rwandan dissidents led by former Rwandan Chief of Staff Kayumba Nyamwasa, who now lives in exile in South Africa, and former Rwandan chief of intelligence Patrick Karegeya, who was killed in a hotel in Johannesburg in 2013 while also in exile.
A report by the UN Group of Experts last December said Nyamwasa was recruiting fighters and stockpiling ammunition from Burundi, Uganda and the DRC.
It said the exiled general had frequently travelled from South Africa on recruiting missions for a newly formed rebel group called P5 -- a sub-body under the RNC.
The group reportedly primarily operates in the South Kivu region of the DRC.
Their trial began weeks after Sylvestre Mudacumura, the commandant of the rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, also based in the DRC, was killed by the Congolese army.