Arusha, September 25, 2002 (FH) - Former Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana knew of the plan to arm certain civilians in what was referred to as "civil defence" but that later led to the widespread massacres experienced in the country, expert witness Alison Des Forges told the Tribunal on Wednesday. Des Forges who is testifying as the first prosecution witness told the court that the plan (to kill) was in existence before the death of President Habyarimana and his death was therefore not the cause of the killings that occurred after his plane crushed.

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"His death was not the cause but the catalyst that set off the plan," Des Forges said. She added: "We do not know whether Habyarimana himself would in fact have put it (the plan) into operation. "The witness had earlier testified that the military regime had prepared and armed soldiers, former officers and select members of the civilians in what was coined as a "civil defence system" for self-defence after a rebel attack in 1990. However, she said this system was used as a mechanism to massacre Tutsis and their perceived "collaborators" nationwide. Des Forges stated some members of the gendarmerie asked the president during a meeting, why people were being armed without their knowledge and the head of state reportedly asked the then minister of defence "shall we tell them?"The court heard that the defence minister said this should receive approval from the Chief of Army Staff (Deogratias Nsabimana) and there was no immediate reply to the question. And the subsequent efforts of the gendarmerie to learn what was going on from Nsabimana yielded nothing, the court heard. According to the witness, it was difficult, going by the remarkably skilful political strategy of Habyarimana to know whether or not he would have chosen to implement the plan. The 'civil defence' was formalized on May 25th, 1994 but it was actually put into effect within days of the president's death, the witness said. Des Forges is testifying in the case of four former military officers, Théoneste Bagosora who was former advisor at the Rwandan defence ministry (chef de cabinet), and three others, Lieutenant Colonel Anatole Nsengiyumva, Major Aloys Ntabakuze and General Gratien Kabiligi. She has been under cross-examination by Bagosora's defence for two days. Did Bagosora "Seize Control"?During cross-questioning, counsel Raphael Constant of Martinique maintained that Bagosora was in his designate position under normal procedure when the1994 events unfolded. He disagreed with the proposition that he seized power and was hoping to take over leadership of the country. The prosecution maintains that Bagosora was the "mastermind" behind the Rwanda genocide and that he assumed "de facto" control of the country's affairs after the president's death. Constant also challenged the proposition that Bagosora chaired a meeting shortly after downing of the presidential plane saying that Augustine Ndidiliyimana chief of gendarmerie staff actually called Bagosora into an ongoing meeting. But the witness maintained Bagosora wielded a lot of authority. She added that none of the other military officers would have had the military force to contest control against Bagosora. Some made attempts to contact western diplomats to seek support against his faction but when it was not forthcoming they remained silent, said Des Forges. Des Forges also said that there were threats against Ndidiliyimana, and other military officers allegedly opposed to Bagosora. However, she told Constant she did not have evidence that the threats and attacks against these officers were at the behest of his client. She completed her cross-examination in the afternoon. Another prosecution team is scheduled to start cross-examination of the witness when the hearing continues on Thursday morning. The case is before ICTR's Trial Chamber Three composed of judges Lloyd George Williams of St. Kitts and Nevis, (presiding) Pavel Dolenc of Slovenia and Andresia Vaz of Senegal. SW/FH (ML-0925e)