Arusha, June 26, 2001 (FH) - Former Rwandan mayor Sylvestre Gacumbitsi on Tuesday pleaded not guilty to five counts of genocide and crimes against humanity before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). Gacumbitsi, 53, was arrested last Wednesday in a refugee camp in Tanzania, where he had been working as a teacher.

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He is charged with genocide or, alternatively, complicity in genocide, plus extermination, murder and rape as crimes against humanity. "Not guilty, " Gacumbitsi said repeatedly, after Judge Lloyd Williams of St. Kitts and Nevis read out each charge and asked for his plea. At the time of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda he was mayor of Rusumo commune in the eastern Rwandan region of Kibungo. He was also a member of the former single party MRND of the late president Juvénal Habyarimana, whose death on April 6th, 1994, sparked the genocide. According to the Prosecutor, Gacumbitsi organized the campaign against Tutsi civilians in his commune, including holding meetings and distributing arms. "Sylvestre Gacumbitsi killed persons by his own hand, ordered killings by subordinates, and led attacks under circumstances where he knew, or should have known, that civilians were, or would be, killed by persons under his authority," says his indictment. Gacumbitsi is charged with leading an attack between April 15th and 17th, 1994, on the Nyarubuye church complex where Tutsi and Hutu refugees had gathered. He allegedly ordered Hutu refugees to separate from Tutsis and, once the groups had separated, attacks on the Tutsis began. "Communal police and Interahamwe (Hutu militia) attacked the Tutsi refugees with grenades and firearms and traditional weapons. Other attackers used the machetes previously supplied by Sylvestre Gacumbitsi," says the indictment. The Prosecutor says that the next day Gacumbitsi and a group of attackers "returned to the devastated church compound armed with spears, machetes, bows and arrows and finished off survivors lying among the corpses". An estimated 20,000 people were killed in Nyarubuye church compound, which is now a genocide memorial. Gacumbitsi is also accused of ordering the murder of several Tutsi children. "Upon specific instruction from Sylvestre Gacumbitsi, infant survivors of the attack on Nyarubuye paroisse were lured to a location with an offer for food," says the indictment. "Once they had assembled, Sylvestre Gacumbitsi ordered all exits blocked and the children were killed with grenades. "The former mayor is accused of having personally slit open the stomach of a pregnant Tutsi woman. "On a date uncertain in April 1994, Sylvestre Gacumbitsi approached a pregnant Tutsi woman and her mother-in-law along a roadside," the Prosecutor alleges. "The woman appeared to be in discomfort and asked for assistance. Instead of helping the women, Sylvestre Gacumbitsi took a knife and slit her abdomen, causing the two fetuses that the woman was carrying to fall from her body. Sylvestre Gacumbitsi, assisted by another, repeatedly stabbed the woman, her mother-in-law and the two babies, causing their deaths. "Gacumbitsi is accused of inciting the rape and sexual degradation of Tutsi girls. For example, he is alleged to have traveled along the Nyarubuye road announcing with a megaphone: "Search in the bushes, do not save a single snake (term used for Tutsis)… Hutu that save Tutsi should be killed… Tutsi girls that have always refused to sleep with Hutu should be raped… and sticks placed in their genitals". GG/JC/FH (GA0626e)