Arusha, October 30th, '99 (FH) - On Monday, for the first time ever, a court of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) begins a working visit to massacre sites in Rwanda. Judges, prosecutors and defence lawyers working on the genocide trial of former Rwandan mayor Ignace Bagilishema are to spend four days inspecting sites in western Rwanda where the accused is alleged to have committed crimes.

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The places concerned are in the west Rwandan prefecture of Kibuye, mainly in the communes of Mabanza, Gitesi, Gishyita and Gisovu. Bagilishema, whose trial began on October 27th, was mayor of Mabanza from February 1980 to July 1994. He is accused of playing a leading role in the massacre of Tutsis who fled to the region during the genocide that took place from April to July 1994. "The visit," says an ICTR press release,"will give the judges first hand knowledge of the places involved and will facilitate the appreciation of evidence from both prosecution and defence witnesses. "The Tribunal is, however, anxious to ensure that the visit does not affect perceptions of the judges' impartiality. There will be no protocol visits to Rwandan officials, either at national or local level in Kibuye. ICTR spokesman Kingsley Moghalu said that UN security arrangements were nevertheless being made in cooperation with the Rwandan authorities. Journalists and photographers are being asked not to follow the judges during the visits to the various locations. "Above all," say official sources, "journalists should avoid any photography or other activity which might be prejudicial to the interests of the defendant, to whom the presumption of innocence applies. "Trial Chamber One, which is handling the Bagilishema case, is composed of judges Eric Mose (Norway) presiding, Asoka de Zoysa Gunawardena (Sri Lanka) and Mehmet Guney (Turkey). The visit was requested by Bagilishema's French defence counsel François Roux and, according to spokesman Moghalu, "the judges thought it would be useful". Roux has already been to Rwanda in the context of his work, being only the third defence lawyer to do so in the history of the ICTR. However, this will be the first time that ICTR judges have paid such a visit. The Tribunal rejected a motion by former Rwandan mayor Jean-Paul Akayesu's defence calling for such a visit. Former ICTR president Judge Laity Kama (Senegal) later explained that the judges had been unable to agree on the issue. The visit comes at a time when previously strained relations between Rwanda and the ICTR are improving. In June, the two signed a long-awaited "Memorandum of Understanding" in which Rwanda pledged to extend certain privileges to ICTR personnel. These include free circulation on Rwandan territory, access to all necessary documents, and the right to direct contacts with national, local and army authorities. Since the beginning of the year, three ICTR defence counsels have been to Rwanda, apparently without any security problems. And in early October, the ICTR welcomed Kigali's appointment of a Rwandan government special representative to the Tribunal. JC/FH (BS§1030e)