Arusha, August 21, 2002 (FH) - Former Rwandan Chief of Staff Augustin Bizimungu on Wednesday denied ten counts of genocide when he made his initial appearance before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). Bizumungu, clad in a blue suit and expressing himself in French answered "not guilty" (non coupable) to the charges that include genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, complicity in genocide and crimes against humanity.

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The rules of the Tribunal require that an accused appears before a court of the ICTR within the shortest time possible after arrest and transfer. In the initial appearance, the accused is presented officially, with the indictment enumerating and expounding on the charges he (she) is facing. Bizimungu, 50, is considered one of the most significant individuals arrested since Protais Zigiranyirazo, former president Juvénal Habyarimana's brother-in-law, was arrested in Belgium on July 26, 2001. The ex-Chief of Staff was arrested on August 12th, in Angola after being identified among UNITA rebels, gathered at a demobilisation camp and transferred to the ICTR UN detention facility in Arusha on the night of August 14th. The Tribunal had issued a warrant of arrest for Bizimungu dated April 12th, this year. Tribunal officials have described Bizimungu as one of the "top three or two most wanted by the Tribunal. " Commenting on the issue, ICTR spokesperson Kinsgley Moghalu said, "The arrest of Bizimungu is a very significant arrest". Bizimungu's arrest "delighted" the Rwandan government, which suspected that he was at the head of the Hutu rebels, active in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). On its part, the international human rights body Human Rights Watch stated that Bizimungu's arrest and transfer to Arusha "marked an important step" in the process of restoring justice in relation to the Rwandan genocide. Power policyProsecution maintains that Bizimungu and others conspired to work out a plan to exterminate the civilian Tutsi population and eliminate members of the opposition, so that they could remain in power. Bizimungu and others "distributed weapons to the militiamen and certain carefully selected members of the civilian population with the intent to exterminate the Tutsi population and eliminate its accomplices," the court heard. According to the prosecution, Bizimungu was among several senior officers in the Rwandan Army who publicly stated that the extermination of the Tutsi would be the inevitable consequence of any resumption of hostilities by the RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) or of the implementation of the (1993) Arusha Accords. "Furthermore, in February 1994 (Augustin) Bizimungu stated that if the RPF attacked again he did not want to see one Tutsi alive in his sector of operations," reads his indictment. Bizimungu who hails from Byumba province, north of Rwanda is charged jointly with four other military officers, and one Protais Mpiranya, is still on the run. The ex-Chief of staff is one of nine people, that the US government announced on July 29th, rewards of up to 5 million US dollars for information leading to their arrest and transfer to the Tribunal for Rwanda. His arrest brought to 60 the total number of individuals detained under the authority of the ICTR and the current number of detainees in Arusha is 53. Bizimungu appeared before ICTR's Trial Chamber Three judge, Pavel Dolenc of Slovenia. Duty counsel, Bharat Chadha represented him, while Cire Ba led the prosecution. SW/FH (BZ-0821e)