Arusha, 17th June 2002 (FH) - The trial of the former minister of information in the Rwandan interim government, Eliézer Niyitegeka, on genocide charges, opened on Monday morning at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). Arrested in Kenya on 9th February 1999, Eliézer Niyitegeka, 50 years old, faces ten charges including genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, direct and public incitement to genocide, rape and murder.

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The prosecutor of the ICTR says the accused is responsible for massacres committed in Bisesero (Kibuye province, western Rwanda) and elsewhere in the country, between the 6th April and the 17th July 1994. The deputy prosecutor, Kenneth Fleming, told the court that as a minister, the accused had duty to accomplish loyally his tasks and had promised to promote the interest of the Rwandan people, according to the Constitution . Kenneth Fleming underlined that on the contrary "we find him in the hills of Bisesero in the middle of leading attacks against the Tutsis". "What he was engaged in is something similar to a turkey shoot," Fleming claimed. The prosecutor alleged that the estimated 50,000 refugees in Bisesero were armed with sticks while the accused had a fire-arm. According to the prosecution Eliézer Niyitegeka directed and ordered the massacres of civilians and personally took part in attacks intending to destroy in whole or in party the Tutsi ethnic group. The prosecutor says that during the formation of the interim government on 8th April 1994 many member of the cabinet including Eliézer Niyitegeka supported a plan for exterminating the Tutsis and took the necessary means to carry it out. "The charges against the accused are that he was present, he distributed arms, he encouraged the genocide. " said the prosecutor. EN is also accused of rape. According to the prosecution indictment, on or around 20th May a girl was forced to get into Eliézer Niyitegeka's vehicle, where he raped her. When the victim got out the accused himself shot her. The indictment also says that in another incident the accused forced a couple who were driving, off the road. They were then shot and the accused ordered his supporters to take off the girl's clothes, cut a piece of wood and put it in her vagina. The accused, who has pleaded not guilty, is being represented by Sylvia Hannah Geraghty of the United Kingdom (lead counsel) and Feargal Kavanagh of Ireland (co-counsel). The first witness in the trial was a prosecution investigator, Dutch policeman Antonio Leucassen, who showed photographs of sites of alleged massacres. The Niyitegeka trial is being held before Trial Chamber I of the ICTR, comprising Judges Navanethem Pillay of South Africa (presiding), Erik Mose of Norway and Andresia Vaz of Senegal. AT/JA/FH (NI-0617e )