Arusha, March 27, 2002 (FH) - A former defence investigator Joseph Nzabirinda alias Biroto on Wednesday pleaded not guilty to four counts of genocide crimes including rape, before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). Nzabirinda is charged with genocide, or in the alternative complicity in genocide, extermination and rape as crimes against humanity.

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He allegedly committed the crimes in Butare province south of Rwanda, between April and July 1994, according to the prosecution. Nzabirinda worked as an investigator for the defence of former Butare prefect Sylvain Nsabimana, one of the six people accused of genocide crimes in Butare, and who are grouped in the biggest trial before the ICTR - the 'Butare Trial'. Born in Sahera in Ngoma, Butare province (south of Rwanda), Nzabirinda is accused of massacres of Tutsis who had sought refuge at the Kabakobwa hills in the same commune in 1994. A former mayor of Ngoma Joseph Kanyabashi also an accused in the Butare trial is also facing charges for the same massacres. According to his indictment, Nzabirinda allegedly returned to his native sector Sahera from Kigali after April 6th, 1994 and attended meetings being held to organise and plan the killings of the Tutsis in this sector. The former investigator reportedly said during these meetings that all the Tutsi should be killed starting from the intellectuals being the most dangerous. Prosecution states that around April 20th, 1994 Tutsis and Hutus who were unaware that the former were the target gathered at Kabuje near Sahera, escaping massacres in Gikongoro province, Butare. Nzabirinda allegedly told the Hutu, "you are useless, you are stopping the massacres, you believe that the Tutsis of Sahera are more important than my wife who was killed at Kigali?"The prosecution maintains Nzabirinda raped three Tutsi women. It cites a case where the accused allegedly forced a Tutsi girl out of her hiding place and raped her on several different occasions over several days, together with his friends from the Interahamwe (militia). His indictment states that the victim and her sister were later killed. Nzabirinda, 45, was in Belgium prior to his arrest on December 21st, 2001, at the request of the Tribunal. He appeared before ICTR's Trial Chamber Three judge Lloyd George Williams of St Kitts and Nevis. Another defence investigator, Siméon Nshamihigo, was arrested in Arusha within the premises of the Tribunal in May last year, by Tanzanian authorities. He was first arrested for immigration charges by the Tanzanian authorities and was later handed over to the Tribunal. Nshamihigo, 41, was in the defence team of former Cyangugu military officer Samuel Imanishimwe. He made his initial appearance last June and pleaded not guilty to genocide crimes allegedly committed in Cyangugu in 1994. SW/FH (NZ -0327e)