Arusha, March 14, 2001(FH) - Former Rwandan mayor and genocide suspect Laurent Semanza slashed the neck of a young girl and killed her by knifing her in the chest, a witness told the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) on Wednesday. The 15th prosecution witness, dubbed "VAQ" to protect his identity, said the attack took place on April 7th, 1994, near the Muyumbu Health Centre in Bicumbi commune, central Rwanda.

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He told the court that former Bicumbi mayor Semanza was with Muyumbu councillor François Fungameza and a large group of Interahamwe (Hutu militia). VAQ said the naked, beheaded bodies of women were being used as a roadblock by the Health Centre, and that a pit nearby contained the corpses of children. He said that fleeing refugees were being brought to the roadblock and murdered. VAQ said that apart from the young girl, 18 more women were brought to this roadblock, where a masked person was holding their mouths and cutting their throats. Other attackers were firing shots at men, he added. VAQ said he fled when he saw what was happening and just escaped two shots from Fungameza’s gun. Later, the witness said, an Interahamwe and a policeman arrested him and beat him unconscious. He told the court that on regaining consciousness he found himself close to Semanza’s house. The witness said he was arrested by Interahamwe who took him to Semanza because he had no identity card. VAQ said he was put in a room with four corpses of beheaded women and Semanza told him to "sit on your women". "So I sat on them and I had my feet in their blood," he said. The witness said that Semanza trampled on him and urged him to confess he was an "inyenzi" (derogatory word for Tutsi). VAQ said that Semanza "told one of the men to take my nose and cut it off". His nose was not cut off, but he was beaten and later taken to the roadblock. Former mayor Semanza is charged with 14 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, including rape. At the time of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, he was no longer mayor of Bicumbi, but the prosecution says he was an influential figure. The presidential party MRND had chosen Semanza to represent it in the parliament that was to be set up under the 1993 Arusha peace accord. Distributing armsAnother witness told the court on Wednesday that Semanza distributed arms to trained youths in Musha sector, Bicumbi commune. Prosecution witness VD, the fourteenth, said that on April 12th, 1994, Semanza addressed a group of young people in Bicumbi, accompanied by the mayor of neighbouring Gikoro commune, Paul Bisengimana. The next day, according to VD, an army major gave Semanza guns and Semanza distributed them to "young men who had completed training". VD, a Hutu man, said Semanza travelled in a pickup vehicle with no number plate. VD said Semanza also went with youths who destroyed an orphanage in the Musha region on April 16th. "He was the one giving orders," VD told the court. The witness said the attackers looted property and loaded it into a vehicle. The 13th prosecution witness, a survivor dubbed "VAM", told the court on Tuesday that she lost all her children during attacks in Bicumbi. "None of my children died of natural causes, they died during the genocide," she said. VAM said three of these children died during attacks in Mwulire (Bicumbi). The witness said that when Semanza retired as mayor, he introduced his successor Juvénal Rugambarara, who said he was not coming to govern but to "work" (term used during the genocide to mean killing Tutsis). VAM said that when the Interahamwe started training, the local people understood what he meant. The 12th prosecution witness VAR, who started testifying on Monday, has not yet completed his testimony because he is unwell. The court ruled that VAR would resume his testimony when he can, but that other witnesses will continue in the meantime. This case is being heard by 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/PHD/FH (SE_0314e)