Arusha, November 24th, '99 (FH) - Former Rwandan local councillor Mika Muhimana on Wednesday refused to plead guilty or not guilty to genocide charges before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), despite the insistence of the judges. "I am not going to answer on the basis of an indictment that I don't understand," Muhimana repeated several times, and asked that he be assigned the lawyer of his choice.

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The former local councillor for Gishyita (Kibuye prefecture, western Rwanda) was assisted on Wednesday by Tanzanian duty counsel Jesse Kirita. The accused said he had not had time to discuss with Kirita the content of the indictment. Presiding judge Lloyd George Williams of Jamaica said the defendant did not need an assigned counsel at this stage of the proceedings. He then read out the seven charges of genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of the Geneva Conventions on war crimes. When the accused refused to plead, the court entered a "not guilty" plea. According to the ICTR's Rules of Procedure and Evidence, the Chamber "shall call upon the accused to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty on each count; should the accused fail to do so, enter a plea of not guilty on his behalf". Muhimana, 49, was arrested in Dar es Salaam on November 8th this year. He is accused of acting with others to organize and carry out attacks on Tutsis in Kibuye, and the mountainous Bisesero region where thousands fled between April and July 1994. He is jointly charged with seven other people, including former Kibuye prefect Clément Kayishema and former businessman Obed Ruzindana, who have already been convicted by the ICTR. Kayishema was sentenced to prison for life, and Ruzindana to 25 years. JC/FH (MH§1124e)