A court in France on Thursday rejected a request from Rwanda for the extradition of an ex-colonel wanted in connection with the country's 1994 genocide and ordered his release.

Laurent Serubuga, around 75 years old, was arrested near the northern French city of Cambrai in July under an international arrest warrant issued by Rwanda.

Serubuga was the Rwandan army's deputy chief of staff during the April-July genocide in 1994 in which an estimated 800,000 people, mostly minority Tutsis, were killed by the ethnic majority Hutus.

In rejecting the extradition request, the court in Douai in northern France said Serubuga cannot be prosecuted for genocide when the crime did not exist in the Rwandan criminal code when the atrocities were committed.

It also rejected charges of murder against Serubuga, saying the arrest warrant was issued more than 10 years after the alleged crimes so was beyond the statute of limitations.

French prosecutors, who had called for the extradition request to be granted, can appeal the court's decision.

Alain Gautier, the head of the Collective of Civil Parties for Rwanda, voiced his disappointment.

"It's sadly a decision we were expecting," he said. "It's the 15th or 16th time that France has refused an extradition to Rwanda."

Gautier said Serubuga was a "very important figure in the genocide."

Serubuga's son Paulin, who was present at the court, meanwhile expressed "relief" and said justice had prevailed.

"We were expecting a political trial...Our father is sick, we want him to be cared for."

"Rwanda's lies did not convince the judges," he said.

France has repeatedly refused to extradite genocide suspects to Rwanda, fearing they would be denied a fair trial, but has sent some to Tanzania to face trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

There are currently about 20 genocide-related cases pending in French courts.

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