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Shada Islam reports from Brussels
"He is accused of having used the terms vermin and cockroaches"
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Wednesday, 5 July, 2000, 19:36 GMT 20:36 UK
Race charge against Congo minister
Rebel soldier in the Tutsi alliance
Tutsi fighters were described as "vermin"
Prosecutors in Belgium have issued an international arrest warrant for the foreign minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo, on charges of crimes inciting racial hatred.

Abdoulaye Yerodia is accused of describing ethnic Tutsis as "vermin" worthy of "extermination."

His comments were made in 1998, when ethnic Tutsis launched a rebellion against the government of Laurent Kabila.

Laurent Kabila
President Kabila: Could face similar warrant

Mr Yerodia admits using the words, but says he was referring to aggressors in general, and not to any specific ethnic or racial group.

"I said that, faced with a vile aggression, the Congolese people must eradicate this vermin of invaders and aggressors," he told state television in DR Congo.

"It was therefore the aggressors that I loathed, not a particular race."

Correspondents say that anti-Tutsi sentiment surged in the Congolese capital, Kinshasa, after the outbreak of the Tutsi-led rebellion in 1998.

International law

Some ethnic Tutsis were killed by mobs.

Under a 1993 law, courts in Belgium - the former colonial power - can try crimes against international law wherever they are committed and whatever the nationality of the accused.

Prosecutors have contacted Interpol and other international police bodies for help in implementing the warrant.

Laurent Kabila and Tutsi fighters
Old alliance: Laurent Kabila with Tutsi fighters before the 1998 uprising

"The warrant was transmitted today to the international authorities," said public prosecutor Benoit Dejemeppe.

Mr Yerodia is now liable to arrest if he enters a country willing to execute the warrant, which are thought to include most European nations, and some African states.

Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel told the Belgian parliament he could "only be revolted" by Mr Yerodia's 1998 comments.

Identical warrants

A lawyer for 19 Tutsi refugees, whose complaints have sparked the arrest warrant, said he hoped to secure identical warrants against President Kabila and two more of his ministers.

"We have to collect a lot of information. It will not be automatic and not for tomorrow or this week (but) I expect it to happen," said Georges-Henri Beauthier.

The uprising which provoked Mr Yerodia's comments began in the summer of 1998, when the Tutsi rebels, backed by Rwanda and Uganda, took control of eastern areas of the DR Congo.

The uprising has turned into a full-scale civil war, with the insurgents now holding large swathes of the country.

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See also:

13 Aug 98 | Africa
Human rights plea in Congo
12 Aug 98 | Monitoring
Hate messages on East Congolese radio
07 Apr 00 | Africa
Belgian apology to Rwanda
30 Jun 00 | Africa
Congo's unhappy birthday
30 Jun 00 | Africa
Timeline: DR Congo conflict
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