Arusha, July 16, 2001 (FH) - Italy has an obligation to cooperate with the UN's International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) by arresting a wanted Rwandan genocide suspect, says ICTR Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte. Del Ponte's spokeswoman Florence Hartmann told Hirondelle on Monday that the ICTR was continuing contacts with the Italian authorities to get them to arrest a Rwandan priest who has taken refuge in Italy, and to transfer him to the Tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania.

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The ICTR has issued an arrest warrant for him on suspicion of involvement in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Hartmann said, however, that the situation was "deadlocked". Last week Del Ponte told a press conference that Italy had suspended arresting the suspect, claiming it did not have an adequate legal basis to do so. Hartmann said, however, that as a member of the United Nations, Italy had a duty to cooperate with the ICTR and International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY). She said that to claim an inadequate legal basis was just an excuse. Hartmann told Hirondelle she thought Italy should follow the example of Switzerland which, although not a UN member, has arrested genocide suspects. The latest was Emmanuel Rukundo, a former military chaplain in Rwanda. He was arrested last Thursday, and is expected to be transferred to the ICTR shortly. Del Ponte's spokeswoman said that while the ICTR could not exert further direct pressure on Italy to arrest the suspect, the Tribunal would continue insisting on its duty to cooperate. She said the ICTR would also get other UN member states to put pressure on Italy. Last week three Rwandan genocide suspects were arrested in three European countries (Belgium, Netherlands as well as Switzerland) at the request of the ICTR. This brings to 49 the number of people in ICTR custody (excluding former Prime Minister Jean Kambanda who is detained in The Hague and acquitted former mayor Ignace Bagilishema who is still in a safe house awaiting release). Hartmann told Hirondelle that the Prosecutor has drawn up a plan for ICTR investigations to the year 2005, entailing some 30 arrests per year. She said that by 2005, the ICTR would have about 200 individuals detained on charges of involvement in the Rwandan genocide. Protected?Del Ponte's spokeswoman said she could not reveal the name of the wanted suspect in Italy because his indictment was still under seal. However, various international media have reported that the person concerned is Rwandan priest Athanase Seromba. A report in the British daily newspaper The Guardian said on Monday that the Catholic hierarchy in Italy was helping the suspect and had "spirited him into hiding". "Father Athanase Seromba vanished with the help of the Catholic hierarchy hours before he was due to say mass in San Mauro a Signa, a village outside Florence," the paper said. "Fr Seromba had promised to explain in a sermon why the UN Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) last week sought his extradition on genocide charges. "The Guardian report quoted a spokesman for the diocese, Riccardo Bigi, as saying that: "He has not run away. We know where he is, but would rather not say where. He will spend a few days in peace to avoid curious journalists. " The paper also suggested that Italy's official reason for not cooperating with the ICTR was not the real one. "Italy said it needed an ad hoc decree to cooperate," says the Guardian, "but Italian media suggested the real reason was pressure by the Vatican which has sought to play down its clergy's role in the massacres. "Father Seromba hails from Rutsiro commune in Kibuye prefecture, western Rwanda. At the time of the genocide, he was in charge of the Catholic parish of Nyange in Kivumu commune in Kibuye. According to the London-based human rights organization African Rights, Father Seromba refused assistance to Tutsis who had taken refuge in his parish. He allegedly refused to buy them food, even with their own money. African Rights says that some 2,000 Tutsis were killed in Nyange in 1994. According to witnesses, the church where they took refuge was bulldozed, with them inside it, on April 15th, 1994. Father Seromba is said to have been present at the bulldozing, and to have paid the bulldozer drivers. AT/JC/MBR/FH (PR0716E )