By JEFF SALLOT
Thursday, August 15, 2002 Page A13
OTTAWA -- General Augustin Bizimungu is short and muscular, "built like a fullback," and, as the commander of the Rwandan army, he earned a reputation for "ruthlessness in the field."
Roméo Dallaire, the retired Canadian general who led the ill-fated United Nations peacekeeping mission in Rwanda, recalled yesterday scores of official encounters with Gen. Bizimungu, who faces genocide charges.
With a $5-million (U.S.) price tag on his head, Gen. Bizimungu, who in his early 40s, was arrested this week in Angola on charges that he was one of the chief architects of the 1994 massacre of more than 800,000 Rwandans, most of them members of the Tutsi minority.
"They got him, eh? I would love to see his face now," Gen. Dallaire said in an interview.
Trained at an elite French military college, Gen. Bizimungu was a sharp battalion commander in the Ruhengeri military district, a hotbed of anti-Tutsi activity, Gen. Dallaire said.
"He had his wits about him," Gen. Dallaire said. "There's no doubt about that."
Gen. Bizimungu features prominently in Shake Hands with the Devil, Gen. Dallaire's forthcoming book about the failure of UN member countries to provide his tiny peacekeeping force with the mandate and resources to stanch the bloodshed.
But is the Rwandan general guilty of participating in one of the most horrible crimes against humanity in the last half of the 20th century?
Gen. Dallaire, who expects he will be a key witness at Gen. Bizimungu's trial some day at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania, chooses his words carefully so as not to jeopardize the prosecution.
Nevertheless, there is overwhelming evidence of the army's complicity in the genocide under Gen. Bizimungu.
The Hutu-extremist regime made him army commander in April, when the incumbent seemed to be acting too slowly in carrying out orders to kill Tutsis, noted Alison Des Forges of New York-based Human Rights Watch and the author of an extensive report on the genocide.
Gen. Bizimungu's officers trained the youth militias that rampaged through the country in the spring of 1994, turning Rwanda into a charnel house.
His army wasn't fighting only rebels -- it was helping round up Tutsis and providing the muscle for the militias when the Tutsis tried to defend themselves, said Richard Nsanzabaganwa, 33, a genocide survivor who now studies law at the University of Ottawa.
In his home parish, army troops swooped down in helicopters and fought Tutsi men who were trying to protect women sheltered in the church. Once the men were killed, the women were brought out and set on fire, he said.
Mr. Nsanzabaganwa, who sought refuge in Kigali, the capital, said he hid in an empty factory while soldiers shot up and tore the place apart looking for him and a Tutsi companion.
Mr. Nsanzabaganwa's parents and five brothers were killed during the genocide. He was saved by a Canadian peacekeeper, who recognized him as a human-rights activist who was on the list of targets for elimination.
"Bizimungu is a pretty big fish, and this arrest is a very significant development," said Gerald Caplan, the Canadian author of a special report on the genocide for the Organization for African Unity.
The arrest will show other fugitives implicated in the genocide that they will always have to be looking over their shoulder and remain on the run, Mr. Caplan said.
Like many others in the Rwandan Hutu regime, Gen. Bizimungu and the remnants of his army fled the country when Tutsi rebels won the civil war.
He was captured in Angola, and apparently turned over by UNITA rebels.