Arusha, September 7, 2000 (FH) – Judges of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) have given the prosecution until September 14th to reply to defence closing arguments in the trial of former Rwandan mayor Ignace Bagilishema, the independent news agency Hirondelle reports. The prosecution’s failure to respond immediately means deliberation of the case, due to begin Thursday, has been put back a week.

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Bagilishema’s defence lawyers François Roux (France) and Maroufa Diabira (Mauritania) pointed to contradictions in the testimonies of prosecution witnesses, throwing their credibility into question. Ugandan prosecutor Jane Anywar Adong told the court that she could not reply on behalf of the witnesses, and that they could have been cross-questioned when they were before the court. Two of the three judges sitting on the case, Mehmet Güney of Turkey and Asoka de Zoysa Gunawardena of Sri Lanka, proposed that the prosecution be given extra time to respond. Presiding judge Eric Mose of Norway had to bend to the majority. The defence said this was a violation of the right of the accused to be tried without unreasonable delay and called for Bagilishema’s immediate release. Prosecutors opposed his release, saying they had not asked for more time but had been given it “ in the interests of justice ”. After deliberation, the judges decided that the defence had not cited any Rule under which Bagilishema could be liberated at this stage of the proceedings. They said the defence should reply to the prosecution’s written response within 7 days of receiving the document in French. Ignace Bagilishema is charged with seven counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of the Geneva Conventions on war crimes. He has pleaded not guilty. The prosecution has called for life imprisonment while the defence is calling for an acquittal. Bagilishema’s trial began on October 27th last year. The prosecution has called 18 witnesses and the defence 15, including the accused himself. The defence has argued that Bagilishema did what he could to save Tutsis during the 1994 genocide and that he asked in vain for security reinforcements to help stop the massacres in his commune of Mabanza (Kibuye prefecture, western Rwanda). Ignace Bagilishema, 55, was arrested in South Africa in February 1999 and transferred to the UN detention facility in Arusha. He was mayor of Mabanza from February 1980 to July 1994. AT/JC/FH (BS%0907E)