Arusha, June 17th, '99 (FH) - The defence counsel for former Rwandan militia leader Georges Rutaganda on Thursday told the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) her client was innocent of the genocide and other charges against him. Canadian lawyer Tiphaine Dickson was speaking during her closing arguments, due to end later in the day.

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This is the final stage of the two-year trial. Rutaganda was second Vice-President of the Interahmwe militia during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. He is charged with eight counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of the Geneva Conventions on war crimes. "Georges Rutaganda is truly innocent," Dickson told the court. "He did not commit any of the crimes with which he is charged. " "When an innocent man is accused of crimes, all too often he can do nothing other than deny the charges," she continued. Dickson argued that "for Rutaganda, as for all the witnesses you have heard, the events [of April to July 1994] began in fear and confusion". She said the defendant had always been caught "between the devil and the deep blue sea", fearing that he would be targetted. Rutaganda's defence counsel told the court that he could be targetted by the rebels because he belonged to the former ruling party MRND, held responsible for the genocide. But he could also be targetted by people from northern Rwanda, who considered people from his region to be accomplices of the rebels. Dickson stressed her argument that Rutaganda had "no influence at all at the roadblocks". The prosecution says Rutaganda had influence over the militiamen there who singled out Tutsis to be killed. "Georges Rutaganda did what he could to save people's lives," Dickson said. She said that people had sought refuge at his house, and that the most vulnerable had been evacuated to various places. She added that Rutaganda had also cooperated with the United Nations Assistance Mission to Rwanda (UNAMIR) and the Red Cross. Rutaganda is accused of inciting and directing massacres in Kigali and his native commune of Masango (Gitarama prefecture, central Rwanda). The prosecution has urged that he be imprisoned for the rest of his life. AT/JC/FH (RU'a70617E )