Arusha, April 22, 2002 (FH) - Former Bicumbi mayor (central Rwanda) and genocide suspect Laurent Semanza may have left Bicumbi around April 19th and 20th 1994, due to an attack by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) a prosecution witness told the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) on Monday. An expert witness Professor André Guichaoua said, "the only tangible element corresponds to when the RPF advanced (April 19th-20th).

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" He was testifying as the second witness in rebuttal evidence for the prosecution, on the thorny issue of Semanza's alibi. He said the RPF advanced to Rwamagana on the road to Kigali on April 18th, and that on April 19th, launched an offensive. Professor Guichaoua told the court it was unlikely that Semanza would have remained in Bicumbi when other local leaders were fleeing the attack. Semanza was mayor of Bicumbi, Kigali rural province in central Rwanda. He is charged with 14 counts of genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide and crimes against humanity, including rape and persecution in his Bicumbi commune and nearby Gikoro commune. He has pleaded not guilty. Prosecution maintains that he was involved in planning the killing of Tutsis, including training of militia and distribution of weapons in his commune. Semanza allegedly committed most of the crimes between April 9th and 13th, 1994. However, in his testimony he said he left Bicumbi on April 9th, and some defence witnesses corroborated this evidence. But the issue of Semanza's alibi provoked a heated debate between his lawyers Charles Taku of Cameroon and USA and Sadikou Alao of Benin, and prosecutor Chile Eboe Osuji of Canada and Nigeria. At the close of its case in February, the prosecution said it intended to call six witnesses for rebuttal evidence regarding the issue of Semanza's alibi. Professor Guichaoua testified after the first rebuttal witness known only as "DCH" for protection of identity, who completed his testimony last week. Professor Guichaoua told the court that Semanza attended a meeting of officials of the interim government on May 20th, 1994, in Murambi, Gitarama prefecture. The interim government was created on April 11th, 1994. The witness also said that being in Murambi on or around the 20th of May did not "rule out his having been in Murambi on other dates". The expert witness also said that many officials would leave Murambi to Kigali and Gisenyi and return. "According to my information, he (Semanza) arrived there (Murambi) before that meeting," said the witness. But Taku challenged the witness's testimony asking in what capacity Semanza would have attended such a meeting. The witness said that the interim government did not have formal existence and that those in Murambi held formal and informal meetings. "The reasoning applied to Nzirorera (Joseph) could be applied to Semanza," he added. The witness named former politicians Joseph Nzirorera and Mathieu Ngirumpatse as others who attended the meetings. Professor Guichaoua completed his testimony on Monday afternoon. The other rebuttal witnesses scheduled to testify are a Kenyan forensic expert Antipas Nyanjwa, a Cameroonian Prosecutor Messina Temme and a protected witness dubbed "XXK". Osuji asked for the sixth rebuttal witness known as "XXL" to be removed from the witness, after difficulties in getting the witness to come to Arusha to testify. This case is before Trial Chamber Three of the ICTR, composed of judges Yakov Ostrovsky of Russia (presiding), Lloyd George Williams of St. Kitts and Nevis and Pavel Dolenc of Slovenia. The trial resumes on Monday with a status conference between the court, prosecution and defence. SW/FH (SE-0422e)