Arusha, June 2nd, 2000 (FH) - Former Rwandan politician Joseph Nzirorera on Friday asked the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) to order a prosecution investigation into the death of Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana, whose plane was downed on April 6th, 1994, sparking the genocide. Nzirorera's Scottish lawyer Andrew McCartan told Trial Chamber Two of the ICTR that such an investigation could be essential to establishing the innocence of his client, and that it was "wholly in the court's power" to order such a probe.

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He quoted ICTR Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte as having said recently that "it would be within our jurisdiction to investigate the downing of the plane if we have evidence or concrete suspicion that it was related to the genocide". McCartan submitted a number of documents to the court, saying they showed such "concrete suspicion" now existed. He also quoted the Prosecutor as saying that if the plane turned out to have been shot down by the pro-Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and not by Hutu extremists, "the entire history of the genocide would have to be re-written". Nzirorera was Secretary-General of Habyarimana's former single party MRND. He faces charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. But prosecutor Ken Fleming of Australia said any references in Nzirorera's indictment to the plane crash and the power vacuum that ensued were "simply an historic narrative" and that there was no direct link with the charges against him. The charges, he said, were related to Nzirorera's links to the MRND and Interahmwe militia, and how he used them after the crash. Fleming said that Nzirorera and others had "taken advantage of the power vacuum" to carry out vicious attacks on Tutsis and perpetrate one of the worst crimes that the world has ever seen. The motion came shortly after Trial Chamber Three of the ICTR turned down a similar request from former Rwandan military leader Gratien Kabiligi. The court said Kabiligi's defence counsel had failed to prove either a causal link or a legal basis for such an investigation. Habyarimana's plane was shot down over Kigali on April 6th, 1994 by unknown assailants. Until recently, it was widely believed he was killed by extremist Hutus in his own circle, opposed to power sharing with the RPF. But a 1997 report by a former UN investigator, leaked to a Canadian newspaper and now under seal at the ICTR, suggests the RPF could have been behind the attack. McCartan also argued a motion for the immediate release of his client, and the restitution of property seized from Nzirorera at the time of his arrest in Benin on June 5th, 1998. He argued that his client had been arrested without a warrant and without an indictment, and that his property had been seized illegally. JC/FH (NI%0602e)