Habyarimana plane crash ‘witness’ disappears

Saturday November 29 2014

Young Rwandans at a genocide vigil at Amahoro National Stadium, Kigali. Mystery surrounds the whereabouts of a former child soldier who was expected to testify before French judges investigating the the plane crash that killed two presidents and is believed to have sparked off the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA

Mystery surrounds the whereabouts of a Rwandan who was expected to testify before French judges investigating the the plane crash that killed two presidents and is believed to have sparked off the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

Emile Gafirita, also known as Emmanuel Migisha, was scheduled to travel to France to appear before Judges Marc Trévidic and Nathalie Poux but reportedly disappeared from his Nairobi hideout.

The former soldier, who lives in exile in Kenya, was to reportedly inform the judges that he knew who downed the plane carrying then Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana and his Burundi counterpart Cyprien Ntaryamira.

In July, the inquiry decided to end the investigation into the April 6, 1994 attack on the Falcon aircraft as it prepared to land at Kigali International Airport, Kanombe. Then, the judges discredited findings by Judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere, who had accused current Rwanda government officials of shooting down the plane. Their decision effectively absolved the officials of blame.

READ: Kagame exonerated over Habyarimana’s death

The judges announced that the file would be reopened at the end of July. Full closure was expected in October but it was again postponed in order to gather evidence from “more witnesses,” one of them believed to be Mr Gafirita.


Mr Gafirita’s lawyer, François Cantier, told French news agency AFP and Radio France International (RFI) that his client went missing the day he was supposed to travel to France.

Last week, Kenyan police promised to investigate the disappearance, which was reported by three male Rwandans at Dagoretti Police Station in Nairobi.

“The three said that they lived with Mr Gafirita in Waithaka,” said a police officer who asked not to be named. “They claimed that some men bundled him in a car and sped off.”

Nairobi County Deputy Police Commander Moses Ombati revealed that Mr Gafirita called him last week seeking a “document” from the police to enable him to get help from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), claiming that his life was in danger.

“I referred him to the Dagoretti criminal investigations office as that was the station that was closer to him,” Mr Ombati said.

However, he said, Mr Gafirita ignored his advice. He added that Mr Gafirita never mentioned to him that he was a witness in any case although he said he had been threatened on several occasions.

The Rwandan government is yet to speak out on the alleged kidnapping. Efforts to contact Minister for Foreign Affairs Louise Mushikiwabo were futile at the time of going to press but Rwandan intelligence sources indicated that Rwanda and Kenya have been in contact over the matter.

A Rwandan intelligence officer told The EastAfrican  that the latest information shared between the two governments indicated that the exiled Rwandan opposition could be behind the disappearance.

“Some exiled figures had been pushing the French judges to hear the testimony of Mr Gafirita since the beginning of the year but Trévidic and Poux had been reluctant to agree to that,” the source said. “When they learnt that the file was about to be closed, they did everything within their ability to persuade the judges to consider him.

“Eventually, the judges agreed to listen to the witness, but not necessarily to consider his account. In a bid to whip up the interest of the judges, the same people and Gafirita planned his own disappearance.

“The latest information indicates that he is hiding in South Africa.”

Leon Lef-Forster, the Rwandan government’s lawyer in the investigation, told French media outlets his client “was not  worried” by Mr Gafirita’s testimony.

He accused the Rwanda National Congress (RNC) of being behind efforts to push Mr Gafirita’s testimony into the file and also his eventual disappearance, which he described as “suspicious.”

The judges are yet to comment on the reported disappearance of Mr Gafirita or whether he was still expected to testify.
Until recently, Mr Gafirita, who was a child soldier, commonly known as “kadogo” during the RPF/A liberation struggle, was unheard of and sources in Kigali said that he had been living in Nairobi since 2009, where he had been seeking asylum in France.