Arusha, October 23, 2001 (FH) - A defence witness on Tuesday told the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) that Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) guerillas attacked the residence of former Bicumbi mayor and genocide suspect Laurent Semanza in April 1994. The witness, dubbed "SAP" to protect his identity, is a Rwandan in exile.

2 min 5Approximate reading time

He said that when the attack on Semanza's house occurred, he could see flames from the scene from a nearby location in Bicumbi. "We could see flames and explosions in Bicumbi and people who came from the area told us that the explosions were at Semanza's house", which had been torched by the RPF, he said. SAP gave part of his testimony in closed session. He was led by Semanza's co-counsel Sadikou Alao of Benin. SAP said that following the attack, some people speculated that Semanza had been killed while others said he had fled the region. He said the attack was around mid-April 1994. Semanza, a former mayor of Bicumbi in central Rwanda, is charged with 14 counts of genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide and crimes against humanity including rape and persecution in Bicumbi and Gikoro communes. He has pleaded not guilty. During cross-questioning, SAP denied that he had contradicted his written statements to ICTR investigators regarding the attack. In response to prosecutor Chile Eboe Osuji (Canada/Nigeria), he denied he had indicated investigators that he knew the exact date of the attack, and also that some details were contradictory. SAP told the court that shortly after the plane crash that killed former president Juvénal Habyarimana, on April 6th, he heard explosions from Kanombe (near the airport in Kigali) and later learnt what had happened. He added that soon after the president's death, "there was trouble everywhere. " SAP said there had been tension in the country and "the president's death was the last straw that broke the camel's back". The witness said that what followed the plane crash was "a war", to which the president's death contributed eighty per cent because the people loved him. In reply to prosecution he said that even during the events in 1959, 1963 and 1973 (when Tutsis were massacred), there were "no massacres" but there was "fighting". According to SAP the "inyenzi" (derogatory term for Tutsi) attacked and wanted to cause trouble but were prevented from doing so. He said in the history of his country he was not aware of Tutsis being massacred. On the events of 1994, SAP said that as he fled fighting in Bicumbi, he saw roadblocks manned by soldiers who asked for identification to monitor those passing through, because pro-Tutsi RPF fighters had no documents. SAP said he witnessed no killings at roadblocks nor did he see any dead bodies as he fled, in sharp contrast to earlier testimonies by prosecution witnesses who spoke of killings at roadblocks. "I loathe to see a corpse," said SAP. SAP also told the court that there was no collaboration between soldiers manning the roadblocks and Interahamwe (militia). The witness also said he saw Semanza only briefly in Gitarama area around April 25th, contrary to testimonies by earlier witnesses that he was seen in many areas of Bicumbi during the events of 1994. The hearing continues before judges Yakov Ostrovsky of Russia (presiding), Lloyd George Williams of St. Kitts and Nevis and Pavel Dolenc of Slovenia. SW/JC/FH (SE1023E)