Arusha , May 4th, 2000 (FH) - A defence witness told the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) on Thursday that former mayor of Mabanza (Kibuye prefecture, western Rwanda) Ignace Bagilishema "promoted peace and development in his commune". The witness was Jean-François Roux, a Frenchman who worked in Kibuye from 1992 to April 10th, 1994, for the Swiss Overseas Development authorities.

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He headed a unit providing support to local development, which worked in nine communes including Mabanza. Unlike previous defence witnesses in this trial, Jean-François Roux chose not to be a protected witness. He therefore said publicly, as well as before the judges, that "Bagilishema was a good mayor". Bagilishema is accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. "There was no management problem in Mabanza, projects were carried out on time, whereas in other communes we had lots of problems," said Roux. He also told the court that between 1992 and 1994, the security situation was good in Mabanza, whereas there were problems in nearby communes such as Gishyita, Rutsiro et Rwamatamu. "The mayor (Bagilishema) did what was necessary to try to stop the violence spreading to Mabanza," he said. Roux also told the court that there was "no ethnic discrimination in Mabanza". For the first time since the defence witnesses started testifying last week, prosecutors declined to carry out any cross-questioning. Positive imageAll eight defence witnesses so far heard by the judges have presented a positive image of Bagilishema during his 14 years as mayor of Mabanza commune. They presented him as a man of peace, unity and development. In particular, the witnesses said that after the shooting down of the presidential 'plane on April 6th, 1994, Bagilishema did everything to try to maintain peace in his commune while "Abakiga" attackers from the North were launching incursions. They said Bagilishema suggested setting up security patrols and organized peace meetings for the population in different areas. Witnesses claimed that the former mayor also launched calls for peace via the religious communities and political leaders in the commune, and urged the population to help the Tutsis who had taken refuge in Mabanza. According to two witnesses, Bagilishema hid Tutsis in his home and helped others to escape by providing them with false identity cards saying they were Hutus. Because of these actions, they said people suspected him of backing the Tutsi rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). They said that in May 1994, the RPF radio, "Radio Muhabura", even congratulated him for his actions promoting peace, and called on other mayors to follow his example. The defence witnesses claimed that Tutsis who had taken refuge in Mabanza left voluntarily for Kibuye when they realized that the commune could no longer protect them against the "Abakiga". The prosecution claims, however, that Bagilishema sent them to Kibuye where they were massacred. One witness said that the communal police, in collaboration with the population, managed to beat off two attacks by the "Abakiga", but that the attackers finally managed, after an exchange of gunfire, to enter Mabanza and start looting. Last week, another witness said Bagilishema had telephoned him saying he had contacted the prefecture for reinforcements but they were never sent. The same witness also said the accused was thinking of resigning because "it was useless to be a mayor if he could no longer protect either his family or the refugees". During cross-questioning by the prosecution, the witnesses said they knew nothing about the killings at roadblocks or the mass graves in Mabanza commune described by prosecution witnesses. The ICTR will resume hearing witnesses for the defence in two weeks' time. It is expected to hear a total of 20. Bagilishema's trial started on 27th September, 1999, before Trial Chamber One of the ICTR. The Chamber is composed of Judge Erik Mose of Norway (presiding), Judge Asoka de Zoysa Gunawardana of Sri Lanka and Judge Mehmet Güney of Turkey. CR/JC/FH (BS%0504e)