Arusha, July 17, 2002 (FH) - Former Rwandan minister Andrè Ntagerura, one of three people accused of genocide charges in Cyangugu southwest of Rwanda, on Wednesday started testifying in his own defence before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). Ntagerura, 52, a native of Karengera commune in Cyangugu prefecture, is in a joint trial with ex- commander of the Karambo military barracks in Cyangugu, Samuel Imanishimwe and former Cyangugu prefect Emmanuel Bagambiki.

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Prosecution maintains that all three are guilty of massacres of Tutsis in Cyangugu, southwest of Rwanda, during the 1994 genocide. They have pleaded not guilty. Ntagerura was the Minister of Transport and Communications in the interim government of 1994. He is said to have allowed or authorised the use of government vehicles, specifically buses for the transportation of [Interahamwe] militia, as well as for the transportation of arms and ammunitions to Cyangugu prefecture. In his chief evidence led by his lead counsel Canadian, Benoit Henry, Ntagerura gave the court his personal and professional back ground, saying his parents were farmers and he came from "a modest background". He said he has three children and that his wife Bongwa Lioncie had testified before this court in his defence (in May this year). Ntagerura is the thirty-third witness in his defence case. The court heard how he worked at the National University of Rwanda in various capacities, rising to Secretary General of the University in 1980. Ntagerura told the court that in March 1981 the President of the country called him to work with him. He added that he was not the only one to be called upon by the president. "We were three from university circles," he said. Ntagerura told the court of the various ministerial portfolios he held namely: Social Affairs and Community Development (1981), Higher Education Scientific Research, (1982-1984), Public Works, Energy and Water (1990-1992), and once again Transport and Communications (1992-1994). In his testimony, the former minister denied that in 1993, he addressed a political meeting at Bushenge market in Cyangugu where he said Tutsis should be killed and that it would be necessary to show their identity cards as proof. A prosecution witness "LAH" who appeared before the Tribunal last October had stated this. According to Ntagerura, "such words would not have gone unpunished. " He said that the government would not have tolerated it and that newspapers would have published it because there was freedom of the press. Ntagerura also denied that that he had distributed arms and clothing to Interahamwe militia in Cyangugu as earlier testified prosecution witness "LAB". This witness told the court that Ntagerura delivered arms to militia at the Shagasha tea factory in Cyangugu. He however said that he participated in an MRND meeting in Gafunzo commune, in November 1993, but did not address the meeting as priority was given to key MRND officials and "for the simple reason that it was almost raining and we had to leave the floor (to these officials). "The ex-minister told the court that political meetings continued until early 1994 and the last one he could recall was one by the PSD party in February 1994 because it was broadcast on radio. Ntagerura corroborated evidence by his wife, Lioncie that he was not in Rwanda in on April 10th, and 11th, as he had accompanied the remains to Burundi, of the late Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira who was killed together with Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana. The two presidents died when their plane was shot down on April 6th, sparking off the 1994 killings in Rwanda that claimed an estimated one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The ex-minister produced his passport as proof of his journey to Burundi and other official travels he made, (in 1994). He said these included a meeting on peace negotiation (with the Rwandan Patriotic Front - RPF) in Arusha, mediated by former Tanzanian president Ali Hassan Mwinyi in April, 1994. Ntagerura continues his testimony on Thursday morning, before ICTR's Trial Chamber Three, composed of judges Lloyd George Williams of St. Kitts and Nevis (presiding), Yakov Ostrovsky of Russia and Pavel Dolenc of Slovenia. SW/FH (CY-0717e)