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Last Updated: Monday, 7 June, 2004, 14:49 GMT 15:49 UK
From president to prison
Pasteur Bizimungu while in court in 2002
Bizimungu had always distanced himself from the excesses of the Hutu regime
Former Rwandan President Pasteur Bizimungu, who has just been sentenced to 15 years in prison, is regarded by many as a symbol of reconciliation in the country.

An ethnic Hutu, he was appointed to the post when the ruling Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) took power following the 1994 genocide in which an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed.

His trial was particularly sensitive for the authorities, as Mr Bizimungu was one of the few moderate Hutu politicians to publicly oppose the government and remain in the country.

He was found guilty of embezzlement, inciting violence and associating with criminals but cleared on charges of threatening state security.

While the RPF says it has introduced stability and multi-party democracy, its critics claim it has centralized power within a Tutsi elite and crushed potential opponents - by accusing them of promoting ethnic divisions.

Mr Bizimungu comes from the northern Gisenyi Province - a region believed to be a stronghold of Hutu extremists.

But he is politically moderate and his wife, Serafina, is a Tutsi.

Mr Bizimungu held several important position in the Hutu regime which ruled Rwanda until 1994 - including the post of director general of the national electricity company, Electrogaz.

In the 1980s he was believed to be close to Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana - whose death triggered the 1994 genocide.

But he had always distanced himself from the excesses of the Hutu regime.

Negotiator

In 1990, he was prompted to become a member of the then rebel RPF after his brother - a colonel in the former Hutu-dominated army - was assassinated, apparently on the orders of the ruling Hutu government.

He was one of the group's few Hutu members and joined just as the movement was beginning its push into Rwanda from neighbouring Uganda.

He held a series of senior posts in the RPF, including that of information officer.

A trained lawyer, he was involved in negotiating the Arusha peace accords between 1992 and 1994.

He was then given the role of president - promoting him to the forefront of Rwanda's political scene.

Peripheral

Despite enjoying a high public profile, Mr Bizimungu was always considered a slightly peripheral figure.

Most Rwandans believed that the real power resided with then Vice-President Paul Kagame - the RPF chairman - and his clique of advisers.

Mr Bizimungu resigned from his post in March 2000, amid growing differences with the government over its policies and what he saw as an unwarranted crackdown on dissent.

He was replaced by Mr Kagame.

In June 2000, he set up his own Party for Democracy and Renewal (PDR), known as Ubuyanja in the Kinyarwanda language.

But the government immediately banned it, accusing Mr Bizimungu and his associates of preaching ethnic hatred.

Shortly afterwards, he was placed under house arrest and stripped of the privileges enjoyed by former heads of state.




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