Five countries whose citizens died when Iran shot down an airliner in error last week said Tehran should pay compensation to families of the victims, and warned that the world is watching for its response.
Canada, Ukraine, Sweden, Afghanistan and the United Kingdom said on Thursday that Iran should hold a “thorough, independent and transparent international investigation open to grieving nations” in a statement issued after a meeting of officials in London.
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The airliner was struck by a missile on January 8 shortly after it left Tehran en route to Kyiv.
Iran admitted on Saturday that it had shot down a Ukraine International Airlines plane mistakenly, after initially denying it had a role in the incident.
All 176 people aboard were killed, including 57 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians, 17 people from Sweden, four Afghans and four British citizens, as well as Iranians.
The five countries asked Iran to conduct the process of identifying victims with dignity and transparency while respecting the wishes of families regarding repatriation.
“The eyes of the international community are on Iran today. I think that Iran has a choice, and the world is watching,” Canadian foreign minister Francois-Philippe Champagne told reporters.
The bodies of all the Ukrainians who died in the crash have been identified and will be transported back to Ukraine on January 19, the interior ministry said in a statement to Reuters.
Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Francois-Philippe Champagne (left) speaks during a news conference, standing next to (left to right) Afghanistan’s acting Foreign Minister Idrees Zaman, British MP Andrew Murrison, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko and Sweden’s Foreign Minister Ann Linde after a meeting of the International Coordination and Response Group for the families of the victims of the flight that crashed in Iran, at the High Commission of Canada in London [Henry Nicholls/Reuters]
The countries said they welcomed Iran’s engagement to date.
Most of those on Ukraine International Airlines flight 752 were Iranians or dual citizens, many of them students returning to their studies abroad or families on their way home after seeing relatives in Iran.
Many of the victims were academics, researchers and students linked to 19 Canadian universities.
The downing of the plane came amid heightened tensions between Iran and the United States over the January 3 killing of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Qassem Soleimani in a US drone strike.
Iran fired missiles at Iraqi bases housing US troops in retaliation for the assassination of Soleimani, which US President Donald Trump had ordered.
US allies have avoided blaming Trump’s administration, but Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the crash victims would be alive today if tensions had not escalated in the region.
“If there was no escalation recently in the region, those Canadians would be right now home with their families. This is something that happens when you have conflict and the war. Innocents bear the brunt of it,” Trudeau told Global News Television this week.
People hold a vigil to remember the victims of the Ukraine plane crash, gathering at the gate of Tehran’s Amirkabir University of Technology, where some of the victims of the crash were once students [Ebrahim Noroozi/AP]
Bosnians rally against mass in Sarajevo for Nazi-allied soldiers
Thousands of Bosnians, many wearing masks, demonstrated on Saturday against a mass in Sarajevo for Croatia’s Nazi-allied soldiers and civilians killed by partisan forces at the end of World War II. The mass was a replacement for a controversial annual gathering usually held in Bleiburg, Austria, which was cancelled due to restrictions imposed by the…
Thousands of Bosnians, many wearing masks, demonstrated on Saturday against a mass in Sarajevo for Croatia’s Nazi-allied soldiers and civilians killed by partisan forces at the end of World War II.
The mass was a replacement for a controversial annual gathering usually held in Bleiburg, Austria, which was cancelled due to restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic.
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Another small replacement event took place Saturday at a cemetery in Zagreb, Croatia.
The decision to hold the mass in Sarajevo provoked a strong backlash in a country where the memory of ethnic war in the 1990s is still fresh.
It was condemned by Bosnia’s Serbian Orthodox Church, the Jewish and Muslim communities and several anti-fascist organisations.
Protesters, many wearing masks, walked through the city singing anti-fascists songs and holding up photos of resistance members who were tortured and killed by Nazi-allied Croatian forces during their rule over Sarajevo during World War II.
“My two grandfathers, their brothers and my grandmother were all killed by these fascists who have been honoured today,” said retired electro-technician Cedomir Jaksic, 63.
“It is not normal that a city such as Sarajevo, which was terrorised so much in both World War II and the last war (in the 1990s), allows something like this to happen,” he added.
Zvonimir Nikolic, a 57-year-old economist, called the mass a “disaster for Sarajevo.”
“Sarajevo is among a few cities in the world where this mass should never be held because the regime it commemorates committed monstrous crimes in Sarajevo,” said Nikolic, who is Catholic.
For Croatian nationalists, the annual event symbolises their suffering under communism in the former Yugoslavia.
However, in recent years, Croatia has increasingly been criticised for historical revisionism. The annual mass in Bleiburg, as well as the one in Sarajevo on Saturday, was held with the support of Croatian parliamentarians.
Police sealed off the area around Sarajevo’s Catholic Cathedral, where Bosnian Archbishop Cardinal Vinko Puljic said mass to a congregation of few dozen Croat dignitaries and priests.
In his sermon, Puljic asked for more information on how the people had died and where they were buried, as well as for respect and forgiveness for all victims of World War II. Smaller memorials were also held in Zagreb and Bleiburg.
As we have just marked the Day of Victory over Fascism, we all must focus on the true values of democracy, reconciliation, and interreligious dialogue.
— US Embassy Sarajevo (@USEmbassySJJ) May 11, 2020
The members of the Bosnian tripartite presidency condemned the mass, as did the US and Israeli embassies in Bosnia.
The speaker of the Croatian parliament, Gordan Jandrokovic, said during a brief commemoration in Zagreb that they aimed to commemorate innocent victims and did not plan to rehabilitate the Ustasa.
Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, said the mass “risks becoming a glorification of those who supported the Nazi-allied fascist Ustasa regime, complicit in the death of hundreds of thousands of human beings”.
US: Democratic legislators to probe Trump’s firing of watchdog
Democrats in Congress on Saturday launched an investigation into President Donald Trump’s firing of the State Department’s internal watchdog, accusing the president of further escalating his fight against any oversight of his administration. Trump, in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi late on Friday, said he no longer had confidence in Inspector General Steve…
Democrats in Congress on Saturday launched an investigation into President Donald Trump’s firing of the State Department’s internal watchdog, accusing the president of further escalating his fight against any oversight of his administration.
Trump, in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi late on Friday, said he no longer had confidence in Inspector General Steve Linick’s ability to serve. Linick is the latest in a string of government watchdogs to be removed in recent weeks under the Republican president.
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The Democratic-led House Foreign Relations Committee, along with colleagues in the Senate, in a statement on Saturday questioned the timing and motivation of what they called an “unprecedented removal”.
“We unalterably oppose the politically-motivated firing of inspectors general and the President’s gutting of these critical positions,” wrote House panel chairman Eliot Engel and Senator Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Republican-led Senate Foreign Relations panel.
Engel and Menendez called on the Trump administration to turnover any related documents by May 22.
The two Democrats said it was their understanding that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo personally recommended Linick’s firing because the inspector general “had opened an investigation into wrongdoing by Secretary Pompeo himself.”
Later on Saturday, the White House said Trump fired Linick following a recommendation by Pompeo.
“Secretary Pompeo recommended the move, and President Trump agreed,” a White House official said.
Linick, appointed to the role in 2013 under the Obama administration, is the fourth inspector general fired by Trump since early April following his February acquittal by the Republican-led Senate in his impeachment trial.
Pelosi described the ousting as an acceleration of a “dangerous pattern of retaliation.” The US Department of State later said Stephen Akard, the director of the Office of Foreign Missions, would replace Linick.
In April, Trump removed a top coronavirus watchdog, Glenn Fine, who was to oversee the government’s COVID-19 financial relief response. He also notified Congress that he was firing the inspector general of the US intelligence community, Michael Atkinson, who was involved in the triggering the impeachment investigation.
Earlier in May, Trump removed Christi Grimm, who led the US Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (OIG) after accusing her of having produced a “fake dossier” on American hospitals suffering shortages on the front lines of the novel coronavirus outbreak.
“Trump is methodically eliminating anyone who would bring wrongdoing to light,” Senator Jeff Merkley, a Democrat on the Foreign Relations panel, tweeted.
Rwanda genocide suspect Felicien Kabuga arrested in France
Rwandan genocide suspect Felicien Kabuga was arrested on Saturday near Paris after 25 years on the run, accused of playing a leading role in one of the worst massacres of the 20th century. The 84-year-old, who is Rwanda’s most-wanted man and had a $5m bounty on his head, was living under a false identity in…
Rwandan genocide suspect Felicien Kabuga was arrested on Saturday near Paris after 25 years on the run, accused of playing a leading role in one of the worst massacres of the 20th century.
The 84-year-old, who is Rwanda’s most-wanted man and had a $5m bounty on his head, was living under a false identity in a flat in Asnieres-Sur-Seine, according to the French justice ministry.
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French gendarmes arrested him at 05:30 GMT on Saturday. Kabuga had been hiding with the complicity of his children. A police statement described him as “one of the world’s most wanted fugitives”.
A Hutu businessman, Kabuga is accused of funding militias that massacred about 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus over 100 days in 1994.
“Since 1994, Felicien Kabuga, known to have been the financier of Rwanda genocide, had with impunity stayed in Germany, Belgium, Congo-Kinshasa, Kenya, or Switzerland,” a justice ministry statement said.
The arrest paves the way for bringing the fugitive in front of the Paris appeal court and later to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
Lewis Mudge from New York-based Human Rights Watch said “it is a huge day for Rwanda”.
“Felicien Kabuga is one of the big fish. He is one of the last remaining individuals still out there who is alleged to have had a planning purpose with regards to the Rwanda genocide,” Mudge told Al Jazeera.
Kabuga was indicted on genocide charges by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
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Rwandan prosecutors have said financial documents found in the capital, Kigali, after the genocide indicated that Kabuga used his companies to import vast quantities of machetes that were used to slaughter people.
The wealthy businessman also was accused of establishing the station Radio Television Mille Collines that broadcast vicious propaganda against the ethnic Tutsi, as well as training and equipping the Interahamwe militia that led the killing spree.
Kabuga was close to former President Juvenal Habyarimana, whose death when his plane was shot down over Kigali sparked the 100-day genocide. Kabuga’s daughter married Habyarimana’s son.
‘Could not have happened’
Kabuga is expected to be transferred to the custody of the UN mechanism, where he will stand trial.
Phil Clark, a professor at SOAS University of London, said the arrest was significant as Kabuga played a crucial role in the mass killings.
“The genocide could not have happened without Kabuga, he basically bankrolled the entire genocide,” Clark told Al Jazeera.
“He basically produced, created and funded the militias that carried out many of the largest massacres during the genocide. He also bankrolled the main ‘hate’ radio station that incited many of the key massacres, and he also enabled the import of about 500,000 machetes, without which the killing spree would have been impossible. Without Kabuga, the genocide couldn’t have happened.”
Olivier Olsen, head of the association of homeowners in the building where he lived, described Kabuga as “someone very discreet … who murmured when you said hello”.
Two other Rwandan genocide suspects, Augustin Bizimana and Protais Mpiranya, are still being pursued by international justice.
Serge Brammertz, chief prosecutor of the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT), said Kabuga’s arrest is a reminder that those responsible for genocide can be brought to account, “even 26 years after their crimes”.
He added: “Today’s arrest underlines the strength of our determination.”
France has long been known as a hiding place for wanted genocide suspects and French investigators currently have dozens of cases underway.
But so far there have been only three convictions from two trials with another trial – of a French-Rwandan former hotel driver accused of transporting Hutu militiamen – set to begin in September.
The genocide has cast a long shadow over Franco-Rwandan relations.
Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, a Tutsi, accuses France of having supported the ethnic Hutu forces behind most of the slaughter and of helping some of the perpetrators to escape.
Last year, President Emmanuel Macron announced the creation of a commission of experts that will delve into the French state’s archives in a bid to set the historical record straight.
HRW’s Mudge said there will be questions asked about how Kabuga was able to avoid arrest for so long.
“There should be an absolute investigation into how he was able to get this other identity and how he was able to evade justice for 26 long years,” he said.
Officials in Rwanda hailed the arrest.
“After many years, the old guards in the French government who could have been protecting Kabuga have left power and you find the young generation have no interest in protecting the ageing fugitive under the new administration,” said Gonza Muganwa, a Rwandan political analyst.
“It’s clear he was being protected and some powerful people knew his hiding place. They sold him.”
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