Arusha, May 18th, 2000 (FH) - French anti-terrorism judge Jean-Louis Bruguière said on Thursday that the timing of his interviews with genocide suspects on the 1994 downing of Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana's 'plane was a coincidence. A French court has mandated Bruguière to conduct an international inquiry into the downing of the 'plane, on behalf of the families of three French crew who also died in the crash along with the then-president of Burundi Cyprien Ntaryamira.

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Bruguière stressed that his inquiry has been in progress since 1998. Habyarimana's 'plane was shot down over Kigali on April 6th, 1994. His assassination was the trigger for the start of the genocide, which left some 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus dead in less than three months. This week Bruguière has been interviewing Hutu genocide suspects held by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), who have always claimed that the Tutsi rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front, now in power in Kigali, shot down Habyarimana's 'plane. Until recently, most people believed that the plane was downed by Hutu extremists in Habyarimana's own circle, who were opposed to power-sharing with the RPF. However, a UN memorandum leaked to a Canadian newspaper earlier this year suggests that the RPF could have been behind the attack. The ICTR has put the memorandum, which dates from August 1997, under seal. Bruguière's questioning of seven ICTR prisoners began on Tuesday and has been taking place behind closed doors. The detainees are former journalist Hassan Ngeze; former military leaders Aloys Ntabakuze and Augustin Ndindiliyimana; former defence ministry advisor Théoneste Bagosora; and former political leaders Casimir Bizimungu, Mathieu Ngirumpatse and Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza. The only detainee to have publicized his information is Ngeze, who claims that Paul Kagame, now the president of Rwanda, masterminded the shooting down of the plane. Ngeze was a founder member of the hardline Hutu CDR party and editor of Kangura newspaper, which ICTR prosecutors say was used to incite killings of ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus. "I got the information that there was a plot to kill President Juvénal Habyarimana in September 1993 from Colonel Lizinde Théoneste, who was then a top official of the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) and other external sources," Ngeze said in a press release dated May 15th. "The mastermind of the plot is Major General Paul Kagame, the current President of Rwanda," he claims. "Other members of the team are Lt-Colonel James Kabarebe, Charles Kayonga, Kayumba Nyamwasa, Karake Karenzi and Colonel Lizinde Théoneste. "These names tally with a declaration on April 21st this year by Jean-Pierre Mugabe, an RPF defector now living in the United States who also claimed to have received information from Lizinde. Lizinde was assassinated in Nairobi, Kenya, after fleeing there from Rwanda. Both Mugabe and Ngeze say he was killed by RPF agents because of the information he had about the downing of the plane. Ngeze, according to informed sources, claims to have met Lizinde in prison, and remained friends with him right up to the time that he was assassinated in Nairobi. Lizinde was imprisoned from 1980 to 1992, accused of an attempted coup against Habyarimana, while Ngeze was also detained several times during that period, but never brought to trial. The RPF liberated prisoners from Ruhengeri and invited them to join the rebellion, which was how Lizinde joined the RPF. As to Lizinde's motivation for leaking the information, Ngeze claims that he became disillusioned with the RPF because of its pro-Tutsi and anti-democratic bias and human rights abuses. Lizinde was a Hutu. Although Ngeze has claimed since September 1993 to have information about the crash, he has never before released a list of names. ICTR detainees are apparently able to keep well abreast of the news, including using E-mail. In his press release, Ngeze says that between September and December 1993, when he published a prediction of the crash in his newspaper, he tried to warn both General Roméo Dallaire, head of the United Nations Assistance Mission to Rwanda (UNAMIR), and Habyarimana himself. But, Ngeze says, he was told he was a "paranoiac". At his initial appearance in 1997 before the ICTR, Ngeze also stood up and told the judges he knew who shot down the plane. "Unfortunately, just as General Romeo Dallaire replied me when I told him there was a plot to kill Habyalimana, Judge Laïty Kama simply told me that it was not the time for further prophecies! He didn't want to hear anything about what I had to say," Ngeze writes. Ngeze is charged with conspiracy to commit genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, genocide and crimes against humanity. He has pleaded not-guilty. JC/FH (RW%0518e)