Arusha, October 16th, 2000 (FH) – The trial of Laurent Semanza, formermayor of Bicumbi (Kigali rural prefecture, central Rwanda), started Mondaybefore the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). Semanza, 46, is charged with 14 counts of genocide and crimes againsthumanity related to massacres of Tutsis in the communes of Gikoro andBicumbi in 1994.

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The prosecution also accuses him of planning, ordering andencouraging Interahamwe militia and other persons to rape and sexuallyassault Tutsi women. Nigerian prosecutor Chile Eboe Osuji described Semanza as one of thosethrough whom the angel of death took hold of Rwanda in 1994. He told thecourt that Semanza was an influential man, close to former Rwandan presidentJuvénal Habyarimana, whose unnatural death sparked the 1994 genocide. Thegenocide left some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus dead between April andJuly. The prosecutor said Semanza was so influential that he even had a say inthe appointment and removal of ministers. Chile Eboe Osuji also claimed thatSemanza’s wife was known as Habyarimana’s fortune-teller. Semanza was arrested in Cameroon in March 1996. He is defended by lawyersCharles Taku of Cameroon and Sadikou Alao of Benin. Just before the trial opened, the judges examined a request from theBelgian government to appear as amicus curiae (friend of the court) in thecase. Belgium wants to be heard in relation to charges also levelled againstSemanza that he seriously violated the Geneva Conventions on war crimes. Belgium says it is afraid that the ICTR may adopt an interpretation of thecrimes which is “too restrictive”. The Tribunal has indicated that if Belgium’s request is accepted, it willbe authorized to send a representative to be heard during the closingarguments of the case. Semanza is appearing before Trial Chamber Three of the ICTR, composed ofjudges Yakov Ostrovsky of Russia (presiding), George Williams of Jamaica andPavel Dolenc of Slovenia. The first witness for the prosecution is due tobegin testifying Monday afternoon. AT/JC/FH (SE%1016E )