Arusha, May 15h 2000 (FH) - Georges Ruggiu, an Italo-Belgian former journalist with Rwandan hate-radio station Radio-Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM), on Monday pleaded guilty to genocide-related charges before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), the independent news agency Hirondelle reports. "I want to confirm that it was indeed a genocide and that unfortunately I participated in it,"said Ruggiu, who originally pleaded not-guilty, in October 1997, to charges of direct and public incitement to genocide and crimes against humanity (persecution).

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He has now pleaded guilty to both charges, after the court accepted his motion for a change of plea. Co-counsel for the defence Jean-Louis Gilissen said Ruggiu's decision to plead guilty came after being told of a speech to other prisoners by Hassan Ngeze, former editor of the extremist newspaper Kangura, saying that the Rwandan genocide had been planned. Gilissen said that when Ruggiu asked other detainees about this, they were at first sarcastic and then began to persecute him, throwing his food onto the floor, issuing threats and calling him an Inyenzi (term used to designate Tutsis during the genocide). Ruggiu then began to realize that he had made a mistake and that "something vital had been hidden from him," Gilissen continued. He said his client had had "no information that the widespread massacres committed from April 6th onwards had been a planned genocide". The accused, a small man of 43 with short-cropped hair and beard, remained with head bowed throughout much of the hearing, and appeared to be praying. When called to the dock, he confirmed that he had decided to change his plea of his own free will, and that he had been fully informed of the consequences. Ruggiu told the court he had come to realize that "certain people were killed in Rwanda in 1994 and that I was responsible". "These are events which I regret," he said, " but they represent the reality, and I have decided to assume my responsibility. "Ruggiu is the only non-Rwandan held by the ICTR and the third detainee to plead guilty. after former Prime Minister Jean Kambanda and former militia leader Omar Serushago. He is the first person ever to be tried by an international court without being a citizen of the country where the crimes were committed. Since he started confessing to prosecutors in July last year, his lawyers have reached an agreement with the prosecution on the legal and factual framework of the case. This accord has been submitted to the judges, but has not yet been made public. The accused is defended by Mohamed Aouini of Tunisia and Jean-Louis Gilissen of Belgium. Ruggiu was arrested in Mombasa, Kenya on July 23rd, 1997, and transferred to the ICTR prison in Arusha. He was later transferred to a safe house. The prosecution had originally intended to try Ruggiu with three other suspects linked to the hate media in Rwanda. They are Hassan Ngeze, former editor of the extremist newspaper Kangura; Ferdinand Nahimana, former director of RTLM; and Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza, former politician and founder member of RTLM's management committee. Ruggiu could now be called to testify against the other defendents. Their joint trial is expected to start on June 5th. AT/JC/FH (RG%0515e)