Arusha, June 5th, 2000 (FH) - Former Rwandan mayor Ignace Bagilishema told the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) on Monday he felt insulted by accusations that he killed Tutsis during the 1994 genocide. "During the four years of civil war in Rwanda, I saved human lives thanks to the collaboration and trust I enjoyed from the population," said the former mayor of Mabanza (Kibuye prefecture, western Rwanda).

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"I was mayor of the whole population, including all ethnic and religious groups, and accusing me of killing Tutsis in Kibuye is an insult. "Bagilishema last Thursday began testifying in his own defence. His testimony is expected to last until Friday. The defendant is charged with genocide and crimes against humanity. He has pleaded not guilty. Bagilishema told the court that the outbreak of war between Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) Tutsi rebels and the Rwandan Armed Forces (pro-Hutu) created a climate of insecurity, and that Hutus and Tutsis started to distrust each oither. He said that at one point, many young Tutsis from Mabanza started to join the RPF. "When young Hutus were killed on the battlefield, that could provoke vengeance on the Tutsi population. The Hutus thought the Tutsis were enemies because they had sent their sons to fight for the RPF. "I organized several meetings among the people, where I explained that the enemy was not their neighbour but those who had attacked the country from outside, and I managed to discourage people from using ethnicity to destabilize the commune," Bagilishema continued. "In Mabanza, unlike in other communes, we managed to stop things getting out of hand by arresting troublemakers and bringing them to justice. "CatastropheBagilishema told the judges that the shooting down of President Juvénal Habyarimana's plane on April 6th, 1994 was a catastrophe for the country. "The people were very nervous and were wondering what would become of the country," he said. He said Tutsis who were afraid started fleeing to the communal offices with their animals on April 9th, and that he did everything to shelter, protect and feed them. The former mayor also told the judges that he continually asked the authorities of the prefecture for material help to protect the refugees, especially because there was a threat of attacks by "Abakiga" northerners. He said he received 6 gendarmes (paramilitary police) on April 9th, to boost the commune's 7 policemen. "There were not enough of them," Bagilishema continued, "to protect the population and contain attacks in Mabanza commune's 14 sectors. "The defendant claimed he told the prefect he would "hand back the keys of the commune" when, on the night of April 12th, the authorities sent him more refugees instead of the reinforcements he had asked for. These were people who had survived a murderous attack by "Abakiga" on the neighboring commune of Rutsiro, he said. "Unfortunately," Bagilishema continued, "the mayor of Rutsiro 'phoned me early the next morning to say that the attackers were heading for Mabanza. Panic" I panicked and I did not know what to do," Bagilishema said, but then added that he had gone straight to see the refugees and advised them to flee southwards, to Kibuye, where the authorities were better equipped to protect them. Bagilishema also said he gave the refugees two policemen to escort them, and that he immediately informed the authorities of the prefecture about their exodus, so that Kibuye would send more policemen to meet them. "I maintain, and I will continue to maintain that it was the only way to ensure their survival," the defendant told the judges. "I regret deeply that not everyone was saved but at least, during the four days that followed, some managed to find refuge with families along the lake [Kivu], others fled to Cyangugu and Zaire. ""If they hadn't moved, they would all have been killed in Mabanza," Bagilishema said, adding that "if I had something against Tutsis, I would have kept them all in the commune. "The former mayor said he only found out two days later what had happened to the Tutsis who went to Kibuye. Kibuye was the site of one of the worst massacres of the genocide. He also denied that former prefect of Kibuye Clément Kayishema had visited Mabanza between April 7th and the flight of the refugees to Kibuye, as claimed by prosecution witnesses. Bagilishema told the court that most of the witnesses brought by the prosecution were members of "Ibuka", an organization he described as organizing false testimony. "They don't want me to go back to my country because they have taken over my goods, my house, my woods and my banana groves," Bagilishema said. He admitted that about 20 people were massacred in Mabanza between April 13th and 14th and that he had ordered their burial in a mass grave in the grounds of the communal offices. "I was overwhelmed and traumatized, and I didn't even have the strength to go and identify those bodies," Bagilishema told the court. "I felt powerless, humiliated, stripped of authority, unable to help my people, it was very hard. "Bagilishema's trial started on October 27th last year before Trial Chamber One of the ICTR, composed of Norwegian judge Erik Mose presiding, Judge Asoka de Zoysa Gunawardena of Sri Lanka and Mehmet Güney of Turkey. CR/JC/FH (BS%0506a)