Léon Mugesera, the long-time Quebec City resident accused of genocide in Rwanda, landed in Kigali late Tuesday night, and within minutes of his plane's touchdown, he was whisked away into the back of a waiting vehicle.
The plane carrying Mugesera touched down just before 11:30 P.M. Kigali time, said James Munyaneza, an editor and columnist with the New Times newspaper, in a series of tweets from the tarmac at Kigali International Airport, amid what he described as tight security.
"A few Kigalians have camped at the airport," Munyaneza tweeted earlier, adding they hoped to catch a glimpse of the man many accuse of inciting genocide in a speech he made a year before he fled to Canada and claimed refugee status in 1993.
Canadian and Rwandan officials concluded the handover of Mugesera minutes after his arrival, Munyaneza said.
As he was taken away, in handcuffs, a woman whom Munyaneza called a genocide survivor shouted, "Mr. Mugesera, I'm right here! Remember me?"
Rwandans wait 20 years
Mugesera, 59, is wanted in Rwanda on charges of inciting genocide and crimes against humanity stemming from an inflammatory anti-Tutsi speech he gave in 1992.
The speech by the university professor and one-time Rwandan political operative was considered a key propaganda tool during a 100-day massacre of Tutsis and Hutu moderates some two years later. Between 800,000 and one million Rwandans died during the three-month slaughter in 1994.
In Quebec City, Mugesera's friend and former lawyer said he still doesn't understand why Canada did not put Mugesera on trial in this country.
"It's an exceptional case, and with an exceptional case you take exceptional decisions," said Guy Bertrand, who represented Mugesera in most of his legal challenges – including his trip to the Supreme Court of Canada which he ultimately lost in 2005.
The high court concluded there were reasonable grounds to believe Mugesera's 1992 speeches did incite genocide. But Canada was reluctant to deport Mugesera until it received assurances from Rwanda that if convicted, he would not face the death penalty. Rwanda ultimately abolished the death penalty for war criminals in 2007.
Mugesera's supporters fear he could still face torture in Rwanda, despite assurances from Martin Ngoga, the country's chief prosecutor, that Mugesera's rights will be respected.
Rwanda competent to try case, says minister
In Montreal, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said Canada had received assurances from both the UN and from Rwanda that Mugesera would not face cruel or unusual punishment.
"Quite frankly, we saw (that legal argument) as just a dilatory delaying motion from his lawyers," Kenney said. "At some point – and it took us 17 years – you have to say enough is enough."
"The people of Rwanda have a right to see this man tried before their own courts," Kenney said, adding Canada does not want to become "a magnet for the world's worst criminals."
Kenney reminded reporters of his government's electoral promise to streamline and speed up the process for deporting people who have come to Canada under false pretenses, such as Mugesera.
"He is a kind of a poster child for what is wrong with the system," Kenney said. "But he's not the only one."