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Rwanda opponent arrives in Qatar after release from jail: diplomats

Paul Rusesabagina, who inspired film "Hotel Rwanda", was freed from prison after more than 900 days behind bars
— Doha (AFP)

Rwanda opposition figure Paul Rusesabagina, who inspired a Hollywood movie on the country's genocide, arrived in Qatar on Monday, three days after being released from prison, diplomats said.

The 68-year-old, whose 25-year jail term was commuted by President Paul Kagame, was to undergo medical checks and rest before flying to the United States on Wednesday, the diplomats told AFP.

"He needs care but will fly on to the US on Wednesday," said one Doha-based diplomat following the case.

Rusesabagina was released late Friday after 938 days in prison under an accord, mediated by Qatar, between the US government and Rwanda.

Reportedly in fragile health, Rusesabagina stayed at the Qatar ambassador's residence in Kigali before flying to Doha. Qatar authorities did not immediately confirm his arrival in the Gulf state.

Rusesabagina was a hotel manager who helped save hundreds of lives during the 1994 genocide. His story was turned into "Hotel Rwanda" featuring Don Cheadle.

But Rusesabagina became a fierce critic of Rwanda's longstanding leader Kagame and formed his own political party.

Rusesabagina left Rwanda in 1996 for Belgium but his family said he was tricked into taking a flight in 2020 that was diverted to Kigali.

Rusesabagina was convicted in September 2021 of backing an armed rebel group after a trial that his supporters denounced as a sham. He was tortured whilst in detention, according to his family.

Talks on a release started at the end of 2022 and final details were hammered out last week when Kagame met Qatar's emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, in Doha, a source with knowledge of the negotiations said.

In an October 2022 letter released by the government on Friday, Rusesabagina pledged to leave "Rwandan politics behind me" and spend the rest of his life in the United States in exchange for clemency.