Arusha, February 14, 2000 (FH) - An expert witness on Monday told the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) that former Rwandan mayor Ignace Bagilishema had the power of life and death over the population of his Mabanza commune (Kibuye prefecture, western Rwanda) during the genocide. " He had the power of life and death because he could certify which ethnic group people belonged to," said French sociology professor André Guichaoua.

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Guichaoua, the 17th witness for the prosecution, explained that at one point during the genocide the ethnic group marked on people's identity cards was no longer valid, as many people in the region were known to have changed it. Guichaoua, 51, has spent considerable time in Rwanda working for different organizations. He was in Rwanda in April 1994 at the beginning of the genocide. The mass killings left up to one million ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus dead between April and July. In December 1988 he wrote a critical report for the Swiss overseas development ministry on development projects in the Kibuye region. The Swiss were financing many of these projects. "This report was not appreciated by the Rwandan authorities," Guichaoua told the court, "because I warned against increasing the powers of the mayors and the possible consequences of doing so. "Guichaoua said that mayors in Rwanda at the time were both "civil servants and political leaders". "The mayor had to be a trustworthy person because he had to implement central government policy," the witness said. After Rwandan independence in 1962 mayors were at first elected, he told the court, but after president Habyarimana came to power in 1973 they were appointed by the president. He stressed that Bagilishema remained mayor for 14 years and that he had an extensive network of support and contacts. "Bagilishema was considered a strong mayor with a powerful support base," Guichaoua told the court. "He could have kept law and order if he had wanted to, because he had a certain influence over the forces of evil that committed crimes in his commune. ""All those in positions of responsibility during the genocide who did not step down condoned what was happening," he said. During cross-questioning, Guichaoua admitted that he had never worked in Mabanza and had never met Bagilishema. He also said he did not have precise figures concerning alleged incidents in Mabanza between 1992 and 1994. He had earlier said that authorities in the region were unable to maintain peace during that period. The witness was unable to define Bagilishema's political role during the genocide, or the precise reasons why he remained mayor for so long. "It could have been because of an extensive support network, or because he was good at his work, but the two are not mutually exclusive," Guichaoua said. Bagilishema was mayor of Mabanza from February 1980 to July 1994. He is charged with genocide, complicity in genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of the Geneva Conventions on war crimes. His trial began on September 27th, 1999 before Trial Chamber I of the ICTR. The Chamber is composed of Norwegian Judge Erik Mose presiding, Judge Asoka de Zoysa Gunawardana of Sri Lanka and Judge Mehmet Guney of Turkey. The 18th and final witness for the prosecution began testifying on Tuesday. Bagilishema's trial is then likely to be adjourned before the defence witnesses begin their oral testimonies. . CR/JC/FH (BS%0215e)