Arusha, October 23rd, 2002 (FH) - Genocide suspect and former Rwandan minister of information, Eliézer Niyitegeka pleaded with militias not to kill a group of refugees at the peak of the 1994 genocide, a witness told the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) on Wednesday. "He [Niyitegeka] pleaded with the Interahamwe (notorious Hutu militia linked to the then ruling party, MRND) not to attack the people", protected witness TEN 23 told the court.

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TEN 23 said that the militias gave in to Niyitegeka's plea and didn't kill the refugees. He said that the refugees had fled their homes due to militia attacks and were composed of both ethnic Hutus and Tutsis. The event is said to have taken place in the central Rwanda province of Gitarama. Niyitegeka, 50, is on trial for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in connection with killings in the Bisesero hills in the West Rwanda region of Kibuye. An estimated One million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda according to an official census by the government . TEN 23 is the second defence witness. Parts of his testimony and that of the preceding protected witness took place in camera. The first defence witness started testifying on Monday. Niyitegeka's trial is being held before Trial Chamber One of the ICTR, comprising Judges Navanethem Pillay of South Africa (presiding), Erik Mose of Norway and Andresia Vaz of Senegal. GG/FH(NI-1023e)