Arusha, March 24, 2000(FH) - Former Rwandan government minister Jean de Dieu Kamuhanda on Friday pleaded not guilty to genocide charges before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). Kamuhanda was Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research in the interim government that presided over the 1994 genocide, a position he held from late May to mid-July 1994.

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Prior to that he was counselor to interim President Théodore Sindikubwabo. In an initial appearance before the court, he answered not-guilty to all nine charges against him. They include conspiracy to commit genocide; genocide or, alternatively, complicity in genocide; violations of the Geneva Conventions on war crimes; and crimes against humanity, including rape. The prosecution accuses Kamuhanda of planning and implementing with others a strategy to exterminate Tutsi civilians and Hutu opponents, so as to keep themselves in power. Specifically Kamuhanda, 47, is accused of massacres in Gikomero (Kigali Rural prefecture, central Rwanda), where he was born. "Jean de Dieu Kamuhanda had family ties to Gikomero commune," says the prosecution. "During the month of April 1994, he supervised the killings in the area. ""On several occasions, he personally distributed firearms, grenades and machetes to civilian militia in Kigali rural, for the purpose of killing all Tutsis and and fighting the RPF [Rwandan Patriotic Front -- Tutsi guerilla army)," the prosecution added. "Futhermore, Jean de Dieu Kamuhanda personally led attacks of soldiers and Interahamwe against Tutsi refugees in Kigali Rural prefecture, notably on or about April 12th at the parish church and adjoining school in Gikomero," the prosecution continued. Kamuhanda's initial appearance was originally scheduled for March 8th. However, it was postponed to allow the accused more time to study the charges. On Friday, he again tried to put the initial appearance off, because of the absence of his assigned counsel Aisha Combe. Russian judge Yakov Ostrovsky, sitting alone on the bench, said Kamuhanda could be represented at this stage by his Tanzanian duty counsel Bharat Chadha. Kamuhanda denied having been counselor to interim president Sindikubwabo before being appointed a minister. But Judge Ostrovsky told him that "any errors in the indictment can be corrected in the course of the trial. Jean de Dieu Kamuhanda was arrested in the French town of Bourges on November 26th and transferred to the ICTR detentions facility in Arusha on March 7th. He is the 11th member of the 19-member Rwandan interim government to be held in Arusha. AT/JC/CR/FH ( KH%0324E )