Arusha, April 16, 2002 (FH) - Rwanda is fully aware of its obligations to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and reminders by the Tribunal are "uncalled for" the country's Special Representative to the Tribunal Martin Ngoga, said on Tuesday. Ngoga told the press that information given to one of the ICTR's Trial Chambers by officials from the Tribunal's witness protection unit on Monday was "misleading".

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He added that this resulted in a reminder to the Rwandan government by the Chamber of its obligations as a state, to the ICTR. "Some of these remarks are making us uneasy, we don't need these reminders," Ngoga said. On Monday, an ICTR official Saleem Vahidy informed the court during the trial of former Bicumbi mayor, Laurent Semanza, that the ICTR's witness protection unit was having 'slight problems with the Rwandan government' regarding witnesses coming Rwanda to testify in Arusha. Prosecution indicated that two witnesses dubbed "XXL" and "XXK" for protection scheduled to testify this week had not arrived in Arusha. Vahidy informed Trial Chamber Three which is hearing Semanza's case that the witnesses needed certain (travel) documents over which the ICTR witness protection unit had no control. But Ngoga said that the Rwandan government has been cooperating in facilitating the travel of witnesses and would continue to do so. He stressed that the officers of the witness protection unit did not inform the judges in Trial Chamber Three that the Rwandan Minister of Justice in whose office the applications for the travel documents in question were, was away when they were forwarded, hence the delay. Ngoga said that in the absence of the Minister, the ICTR officials did not seek alternative means to expedite the processing of the travel documents. He says that at the time of the request the country was marking a week of mourning commemorating the 1994 genocide and that many officials were out of office attending functions upcountry. "Why didn't he (Vahidy) tell the judges that the Minister was away ?" asked Ngoga. He said the utterances in court were indicative that the government was blocking witnesses' travel to Arusha but this is not the case. "The documents should be ready today or tomorrow," he said. He added that the minister had returned to his office on Monday. Associations autonomousDuring the hearing of the Semanza case, the court was also informed that witnesses said they are awaiting authority from "IBUKA", a key association for genocide survivors "or the Rwandan Ministry of Justice. "Ngoga was categorical that the role of the government was to issue the travel documents and that the state and the genocide survivors associations are two separate entities. "We are not going to force any witness to come (to Arusha) but we will continue to facilitate those willing to (travel)," he said. Last month, IBUKA and another association AVEGA stressed their decision not to cooperate with the Tribunal. They have made announcements that witnesses, majority of who are their members should not come to testify before the Tribunal. They cite several issues, including allegations that the ICTR has hired "41" individuals allegedly suspected of genocide. In an apparent response to the call by IBUKA and AVEGA twelve witnesses have declined to come and testify in two cases before the ICTR involving seven individuals. Ngoga said that the Rwandan government should not be expected to make unilateral declarations about the move by the associations while the Tribunal is yet to say anything about their complaints. He said he was not aware of the alleged "41" individuals. However, he said that Rwanda had already done investigations and submitted a report to the Tribunal. Although he mentioned that the report included the "background of various investigators" he did not elaborate further. Ngoga said that the Tribunal should issue a statement on which issues cited by the genocide survivors groups can be addressed and when. SW/FH (TR-0416e)