Arusha, June 16th, '99 (FH) - Prosecutors on Wednesday asked the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) to impose the maximum sentence of life imprisonment on former Interahamwe leader Georges Rutaganda for genocide and crimes against humanity, the independant news agency Hirondelle reports. This came at the start of closing arguments for the prosecution, as Rutaganda's trial draws to a close after more than two years.

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The defendant was second Vice-President of the Interahmawe militia during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, in which some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed. "Without the participation of Georges Rutaganda, the murderous spiral of the Rwandan genocide would not have functioned the way it did," Canadian prosecutor James Stewart told the court. He said the anti-Tutsi genocide was not an explosion of violence in response to the death of former Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana on April 6th, 1994, but "the consequence of a deliberate policy by the political and military élite". Stewart said Rutaganda was not among the highest ranking officials at the time, but he had an influential position within the ruling MRND party, and particularly its youth wing, the Interahamwe. He described the Interahmawe as the "spearhead of the genocide". As house to house searches and roadblocks were set up to persecute Tutsis, Stewart said that people from all walks of life were implicated. He said that as Interahmwe Vice-President, Rutaganda "played his role, even killing with his own hands". The prosecution argued it had proved beyond reasonable doubt that Rutaganda committed the crimes of which he is accused, and asked the court to find him guilty. Rutaganda is charged with eight counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of the Geneva Conventions on war crimes. The charges relate to massacres committed in the Rwandan capital Kigali, and in Masango commune (Gitarama prefecture, central Rwanda). The Kigali massacres include one at the ETO school, when at least 2,000 Tutsi refugees were slaughtered, and at the nearby Nyanza crossroads. Speaking also for the prosecution, Udo Ghering (Germany) argued that Rutaganda could have stopped the massacres. "Georges Rutaganda controlled these events. He participated in preparatory meetings, distributed arms, gave orders. If it were not for him, these events would not have ocurred at that time in that form". Ghering said witnesses had testified that Rutaganda was present at the ETO and Nyanza at the time of the attacks. "He was among the attackers. He gave instructions to the Interahamwe," Ghering continued. "If he had not been there, who else would have directed this operation?" JC/AT/FH (RU'a70616e)