Arusha, October 2, 2001 (FH) - Former Mayor and genocide suspect Laurent Semanza was not instrumental during the 1994 massacres, a defence witness told the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) on Tuesday. The first defence witness dubbed "BZ" to protect his identity was testifying for the second day.

2 min 21Approximate reading time

He was examined by Semanza's co-counsel Sadikou Alao of Benin and later cross-examined by prosecutor Chile Eboe Osuji of Canada. BZ told the court that he did not see Semanza in his sector (which was not mentioned for protective measures) in response to Alao. "I did not see him in our sector and never heard of anyone who saw him. "He also said that Semanza was not in a position to give orders to presidential guard members contrary to allegations. BZ said that the presidential guard members were more powerful than ordinary soldiers and had exclusive access to their camps. Semanza, 57, is former mayor of Bicumbi, (Kigali commune in central Rwanda). He 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. BZ told the court of events at the Musha Parish Church in Gikoro commune where people had sought refuge in April 1994. He said that many Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) leaders were amongst those in the church. The witness also said that youth were being trained at the youth center in Musha and then being shipped off to join ranks in the RPF. BZ told the court of attacks at the Church between April 10th and 14, 2001. He said he knew of the events at the Church because he was on leave and in touch with gendarmes in the area. Prosecutor Chile Osuji maintained that the witness would have been one of the attackers at the Musha Church, but the witness denied. Osuji said that the witness had a "habit of being on leave at a time when ugly things were happening. "BZ gave part of his testimony in closed session. The hearing is before Trial Chamber III composed of judges Yakov Ostrovsky of Russia (presiding), Lloyd George Williams of St. Kitts and Nevis and Pavel Dolenc of Slovenia. Fears that attacks on US may affect proceedingsLead counsel Charles Taku of Cameroon/USA and co-counsel Alao in their opening statements on Monday told the ICTR that September 11th attacks against the United States of America (USA) may affect proceedings of the case. Taku said that there might be difficulties in the transportation of defence witnesses following the recent attack on the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon. Taku told the court that the defence witnesses were scattered over several countries and majority of them are refugees, who relocate often. According to Taku, some of these witnesses who were previously in Tanzania are now in the US and others in South Africa. Semanza's defence said that stringent security measures at airports and other modes of transportation have made travelling difficult. The chamber had proposed that the defence complete presentation of evidence by mid-December, but the counsel say this was a tall order. Semanza to testifyDuring the opening statement on Monday, defence co-counsel Alao told the chamber that Semanza would testify. Semanza's testimony, according to Alao, will be very important because none is better placed than him to tell his story. Alao described Semanza as an ordinary citizen, dynamic and peace loving far removed from the "angel of death" image that the prosecution has painted of him. Semanza's defence has maintained that his accusation as a genocide suspect is political vendetta by an individual seeking to settle political scores. Defence counsel blame former RPF colonel Alexis Kanyarengwe for their client's situation. The hearing continues on Wednesday. SW/PHD/FH (SE1002e)