Arusha, April 4, 2002 (FH) - Rwandan musician and genocide suspect Simon Bikindi, 48, on Thursday pleaded not guilty to five counts of genocide charges before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). "Loyally and honestly, I plead not guilty," Bikindi, who was wearing a suit, stated after each count was read out to him.

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Bikindi is charged with conspiracy to commit genocide, genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, murder as a crime against humanity and persecution as a crime against humanity. According to the prosecution, Bikindi collaborated with the late Rwandan head of state, Juvénal Habyarimana, the former Minister for Youth and Sports Callixte Nzabonimana, national political leaders as well national militia leaders to militarise and indoctrinate youth with anti-Tutsi ideology. The youth in question became part of the mainly Interahamwe (militia) for the ruling political party of the day, MRND, of which Bikindi was a member. Bikindi is also accused of recruiting and training Interahamwe militia and inciting public officials and local populace to kill Tutsis. Some of the individuals Bikindi is said to have collaborated with are already detained by the ICTR. They include Ferdinand Nahimana and Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza (both accused in the so-called Media Trial), Anatole Nsengiyumva (in the Military trial), and Joseph Nzirorera. Bikindi, born on September 15th, 1954 in Rwerere commune, Gisenyi prefecture, was a well-known composer and singer of popular music during the period referred to in his indictment. He was also director of a performance group Irindiro Ballet and an official in the Rwandan Ministry of Youth and Sports. The prosecution maintains that Bikindi agreed with or collaborated with authors of a scheme to "defeat the enemy militarily, in the media and politically"; the enemy being the Tutsi inside and outside the country and their "accomplices". Callixte Nzabonimana, Minister of Youth and Sports and an MRND member, allegedly authorized and sponsored Bikindi's compositions and live performances of the Irindiro Ballet dance troupe through the Ministry. "Simon Bikindi's song lyrics manipulated the politics and history of Rwanda to promote Hutu solidarity," says the prosecution. The music was allegedly played on the 'hate media' Radio-Television des Milles Collines (RTLM). Prosecution adds that between April and June 1994, Bikindi's music, particularly compositions called 'Bene sebahinzi' and 'Naga abahutu', was played repeatedly throughout the day. Bikindi's music has been banned in Rwanda since the end of the 1994 genocide. During his initial appearance, the court heard how Bikindi, in July 1994, ordered the killing of a Tutsi woman hiding in the ceiling of her house under protection of her Hutu husband. The victim, Ancilla, was discovered by Bikindi's Interahamwe colleagues, Noël and Pascal, and he reportedly ordered them to take her away. The two allegedly killed the woman and her four-year-old daughter at the orders of Bikindi and buried her in a shallow grave. The prosecution also accuses Bikindi of operating a vehicle fitted with a public address system in Gisenyi province in June 1994, from which he was announcing: "The majority population, it's you, the Hutu I am talking to. You know the minority population is the Tutsi. Exterminate quickly the remaining ones. " Bikindi is alleged to have broadcast his music from the same vehicle, as he was leading an Interahamwe caravan. The musician was arrested on July 12, 2001 in Leiden, the Netherlands, by Dutch authorities at the request of the ICTR Prosecutor. He lost a legal battle against his extradition to the ICTR and was transferred to the ICTR's UN detention facility on March 28, 2002. Bikindi appeared before ICTR's Trial Chamber Three judge, Pavel Dolenc of Slovenia. ICTR duty counsel, Barhat Chadha of Tanzania represented Bikindi. SW/JA/FH (SB-0404e)