Arusha, August 9th, '99 (FH) - The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) on Monday began hearing prosecution requests to amend the indictments of accused persons it plans to group in joint trials. This week the court will hear prosecution requests aimed at grouping six accused known as the "Butare group", four accused known as the "military group" and three involved in crimes in Cyangugu, southwest Rwanda.

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In the first hearing, prosecutor Japhet Mono of Tanzania asked a reconstituted Trial Chamber Two for leave to add four additional counts to the indictment of Elie Ndayambaje, former mayor of Muganza (Butare prefecture, southern Rwanda). Ndayambaje is already charged with five counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and serious violations of the Geneva Conventions on war crimes. The proposed additional charges are a separate count of conspiracy to commit genocide (included as an alternative charge in one of the existing counts), complicity in genocide, public and direct incitement to commit genocide, and crimes against humanity. Also on Monday, the prosecution team is presenting similar requests to amend the indictments against five other accused who, along with Ndayambaje, form the Butare group. On Tuesday prosecutors are expected to file for leave to join these six cases for a single trial. The other five accused are former mayor of Ngoma Joseph Kanyabashi, former Minister of Women's Development and Family Welfare Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, her son and former militia leader Arsène Ntahobali, and two former prefects of Butare Sylvain Nsabimana and Alphonse Nteziryayo. Defence opposes amendmentProsecutor Japhet Mono argued that the request to amend Ndayambaje's indictment was admissible both in law and on the facts of the case. He told the court that it was based on new evidence turned up by investigations which he said "started a long time ago and are ongoing". Ndayambaje was arrested in Belgium on June 28th, 1995, and transferred to the ICTR detention facility in Arusha on November 8, 1996. He pleaded not guilty to the charges against him at an initial appearance on November 29, 1996. However, Belgian defence counsel Véronique Laurent said she believed the request was inadmissible both from a legal point of view and on the facts of the case. She said there appeared to be no new evidence, and that the amendment would prejudice her client's case. Laurent said his rights had already been violated because he had been in detention without trial for four years. The court was composed of Tanzanian judge William Sekule, South African judge Nevanethem Pillay of South Africa and Turkish judge Mehmet Güney. Presiding judge Sekule said the court would deliberate and deliver its verdict on Tuesday at 15. 00 hours local time. Appeals Court decision gave go-aheadThe prosecutor's request to amend the indictment, with a view to joinder, was originally filed in September 1998. However, it was held up for almost a year by a defence lawyers' appeal regarding who could hear the amendment and joinder motions. On June 3rd this year, the ICTR Appeals Court in The Hague threw out two defence motions challenging the legality of reconstituted courts, but said the prosecutor may only request amendments to an indictment from the court where the accused made his or her initial appearance. The Appeal Court ruling means that the composition of a trial chamber is not cast in stone. The reconstituted chambers concerned may now hear the Prosecutor's joinder motions. However, technical problems regarding the composition of the courts could open the way for further defence moves to stall the procedures. Outgoing Chief Prosecutor Louise Arbour has for years been pushing for more joint trials, to speed up proceedings at the ICTR. Two other joint trials are in the works, involving the so-called media group (three people) and the so-called politicians, of whom five are currently in custody. JC/FH (ND§0809e)