Arusha, October 22, 2001 (FH) - As the genocide trial of former Rwandan mayor Laurent Semanza resumed on Monday, two separate defence witnesses told the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) that some people in Semanza's Bicumbi commune celebrated the April 6th, 1994 downing of the former president's 'plane, and that there was fighting between pro-Tutsi RPF guerillas and the authorities. It was the downing of former president Juvénal Habyarimana's plane that sparked the genocide of some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in less than three months.

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The Hutu authorities at the time claimed that massacres were spontaneous and inter-ethnic, and that they were provoked by an RPF invasion of Rwanda. They also claimed the RPF had 'downed the plane', a theory which has never been proven. It is still not known who attacked the plane. 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. The seventh and eighth defence witnesses, dubbed "DCN" and "MV" to protect their identities, both told the court that RPF guerrillas fought with communal police in their area in April, 1994. They were responding to questions by Semanza's co-counsel Alao Sadikou of Benin. DCN, a Rwandan man living in exile, said that there was a fight in a forest called Gihumuza (in Bicumbi) on April 7th, 1994 between "RPF infiltrators" and communal policemen. He told the court that fighting started when the death of former president Habyarimana was announced. In cross-questioning from prosecutor Chile Eboe Osuji (Canada/Nigeria), the witness admitted he was not an eye-witness to the fighting but had been told about. DCN said that after the death of the president on April 6th, a radio announcement told people they should not leave their homes and so he did not venture more than a kilometre from his home. However, he told the court, when the violence increased and people of Bicumbi commune started fleeing, he also fled, around April 19th. Witness MV told the court that some people in her area celebrated the death of the president, which offended others. She said those celebrating moved towards Ruhanga in Bicumbi, largely inhabited by Tutsis, and that they started attacking the Hutus amongst them. MV told the court that the people of Ruhanga, together with the RPF, attacked the Hutus. She added that the people being attacked sought gendarmes from Kabuga for protection and that fighting between the RPF and the gendarmes followed. MV told the court the fighting took place near a church and school in Ruhanga. "I personally witnessed some events like the celebrating (of the president's death) but about the fighting I was told by someone who saw," MV said. MV said that before the death of the president, the RPF "had set up a trap" for Semanza but he was not harmed. She did not elaborate. The witness said Semanza was an official authority; a rich man and people loved him. 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 (SE1022e)