Arusha, December 4th, 2000 (FH) - Former Rwandan mayor Laurent Semanza personally participated in the killing of Tutsis at Mwulire in Bicumbi, central Rwanda, during the 1994 genocide, a witness told the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) on Monday. The prosecution witness, dubbed "VP" to protect his identity, said that Semanza shot at Tutsis who were fleeing to Mwulire Hill on April 18th, 1994.

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"Semanza fired at the refugees," the witness told the court. Semanza, a former mayor of Bicumbi, is charged with 14 counts of genocide and crimes against humanity related to massacres of Tutsis in the communes of Gikoro and Bicumbi in 1994. At the time of the genocide, Semanza was a nominated member of parliament of the MRND party, and was allegedly very influential. The witness described the April 18th attack on Mwulire as the biggest one, saying that he lost one child, relatives and neighbours. VP added that Semanza was accompanied by "soldiers and the Interahamwe" (militia). According to the witness, Semanza had distributed firearms and machetes to the Interahamwe before the attack. VP also told the court that moderate Hutus who assisted the Tutsi were also killed. He named Bakundukize, an ex-councillor in Mwulire sector, as one example. VP told the court that between April 11th and 12th, he took refuge at Bakundukize's residence. However, Semanza sent a letter ordering the ex-councillor to send away all Tutsi from Mwulire, or face the consequences, VP said. The witness said he saw the letter while Bakundukize was reading it, and that he recognized Semanza's signature and handwriting. The letter also summoned Bakundukize to the commune office. “But Bakundukize did not follow the orders to chase us away,” VP added. "He was killed on April 19th," the witness continued. During cross-examination by the defence, the witness said he was hiding close to Bakundukize's home area and knew when he was killed, although he did not see him die. Semanza is defended by Charles Taku (Cameroon/USA), while the prosecution team is led by Chile Oboe-Osuji, a Canadian of Nigerian origin. Semanza is appearing before Trial Chamber Three of the ICTR, composed of judges Yakov Ostrovsky of Russia (presiding), Lloyd George Williams of Jamaica and Pavel Dolenc of Slovenia. SW/JC/FH (SE%1204E )