French authorities have arrested a Rwandan accused of leading a rebel group that carried out mass rapes in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the International Criminal Court prosecutor said on Monday.
Callixte Mbarushimana, 47, described as a leader of the group FDLR, was held after a sealed arrest warrant was issued on Sept. 28 alleging the rebel group was involved in more than 300 rapes in DRC's North Kivu province.
ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said the arrest was a "crucial step in efforts to prosecute the massive sexual crimes committed in the DRC", adding that more than 15,000 cases of sexual violence were reported in the country in 2009.
The prosecutor said Mr. Mbarushimana has denied any allegation against his movement.
Mr. Mbarushimana is charged with 11 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes including killings, rape, persecution based on gender and extensive destruction of property. The prosecutor alleges the FDLR committed these during most of 2009.
Mr. Mbarushimana has been the FDLR's executive secretary since July 2007, making him one of the group's highest-ranking members, the prosecutor said.
He is the fifth suspect in custody of the ICC, which is investigating five 'situations' in Africa but has no police force of its own and has had difficulties in enforcing arrest warrants.
The arrest is the result of almost two years of inquiries conducted by France, Germany, the DRC, Rwanda and the ICC.
Seven years after a 1998-2003 war that claimed more than five million lives, Congo is still plagued by insecurity, with Rwandan Hutu and local Mai Mai militias at large in its mineral-rich east and brutal Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army rebels in the north.
The FDLR has continued to commit horrific crimes against the civilian population since the end of the Congo war, the prosecutor said.