Arusha, August 8, 2001 (FH) - Former Rwandan mayor Jean Mpambara on Wednesday pleaded not guilty to genocide before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). He urged the court to order his immediate release, saying his arrest was illegal.

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Mpambara was mayor of Rukara, in the eastern Rwandan region of Kibungo, at the time of the 1994 genocide. He was arrested in a Tanzanian refugee camp on June 20th, along with another former Rwandan mayor, Sylvestre Gacumbitsi. The ICTR Prosecutor alleges that Mpambara, "acting in concert with others, participated in the planning, preparation or execution of a common scheme, strategy, plan or campaign with intent to destroy Tutsis" in Rukara. Mpambara claimed that he was illegally arrested along with Gacumbitsi. "A second suspect was supposed to be arrested, but it was not me," he said. "When they failed to find that person, the ICTR agents requested that I be detained. "The accused said the indictment against him had been "fabricated" and that he was being victimized because he once worked as a civil servant under former president Juvénal Habyarimana. Before becoming mayor of Rukara, Mpambara was director of the Official Gazette ("Journal Officiel") in the president's office. Presiding Judge Andrésia Vaz of Senegal said that such issues could be raised in a pre-trial motion at a later stage. Mpambara was represented in court by a Tanzanian duty counsel, Bharat Chadha. "I plead not guilty," the 47-year-old former mayor calmly responded after being informed of the charges against him. He is charged with one count of genocide. The indictment alleges that "between April 7th, 1994, and April 9th, 1994, Jean Mpambara circulated in Rukara commune aboard his vehicle, advised the Tutsi population to take shelter at Rukara parish, assured them that they would be safe, and transported persons seeking shelter to Rukara Parish in his vehicle"Subsequently, according to the indictment, "Jean Mpambara ordered, led, instigated, facilitated or otherwise aided and abetted attacks against civilian Tutsi men, women and children" that gathered in public buildings in Gahini district, such as Gahini hospital and Rukara parish. Mpambara is also accused of having mobilized, co-ordinated, trained and armed members of the Interahamwe militia (the youth wing of the then ruling party MRND) in Rukara commune. These Interahamwe allegedly murdered, tortured, raped and looted from Tutsis. GG/JC/MBR/FH(MP0808e)