Arusha, April 3rd, 2000 (FH) - Former Rwandan pastor Elizaphan Ntakirutimana last Friday pleaded not-guilty to charges of genocide and crimes against humanity during an initial appearance before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). Elizaphan Ntakirutimana is charged under two separate indictments relating to massacres of Tutsis in Mugonero and the neighbouring Bisesero region (Kibuye prefecture, western Rwanda).

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On one indictment, Elizaphan Ntakirutimana is jointly accused with his son Gérard who is also being held by the ICTR in Arusha. On the second one he is charged with his son and the former mayor of Gishyita Charles Sikubwabo who is still on the run. The charges include genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, crimes against humanity and serious violations of the Geneva Conventions on war crimes. The Ntakirutimanas are accused of organizing and participating in an attack on April 16th on Tutsi refugees in the Mugonero complex, which included a church and an infirmary hospital. They are also charged with attacks in April through June 1994 in Bisesero, where Tutsi refugees had fled. "At one point during this period," says the prosecution, "Elizaphan Ntakirutimana was in Murambi within Bisesero. [He] went to a church located in Murambi where many Tutsis were seeking refuge from the ongoing massacres. Elizaphan Ntakirutimana ordered the attackers to destroy the roof of the church so that it could no longer be used as a hiding place for the Tutsis. "Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, 76, was born in Ngoma sector, Gishyita commune in Kibuye prefecture. At the time of the genocide in Rwanda, he was pastor of the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Mugonero. The accused was first arrested in the US on September 29th, 1996, then released after 14 months in detention. He was arrested again on February 26th, 1998 in Texas, where he was living. Pastor Ntakirutimana arrived in the UN detention facility in Arusha on March 24th, after losing a long battle in the US courts against his transfer. Nigerian prosecutor Charles-Adeogun Philips said the prosecution was planning to combine the two indictments into one. Elizaphan Ntakirutimana was represented by a Tanzanian duty counsel. He had asked to be defended by the former US Attorney-General Ramsey Clark, who handled his battle with the US courts. AT/JC/FH (NK%0403e )