Arusha, March 26, 2002 (FH) - Former Rwandan counsellor, Vincent Rutaganira, pleaded not guilty to several charges of genocide and crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) on Tuesday. Rutaganira, 56, was counsellor for Mubuga Sector in Gishyita commune in the Western Rwandan province of Kibuye at the time of the 1994 genocide.

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He was arrested earlier this month in Kigoma, West of Tanzania. "I deny all charges", said Rutaganira. "I had no hand in any killings in Kibuye. I also never associated with any of the people jointly indicted with me," he added. Rutaganira is among the first persons to be indicted by the ICTR. He was indicted in1995 alongside seven other persons from Kibuye province. Two of them have since been convicted on genocide charges, one acquitted and three are still at large. Among other charges, Rutaganira is accused of participating in killings of thousands of Tutsi refugees, at Mubuga church at the height of the 1994 genocide. According to the indictment, "On or about April 14th, 1994, Charles Sikubwabo, Vincent Rutaganira and Ryandikayo directed members of the gendarmerie nationale, communal police of Gishyita commune, Interahamwe and armed civilians to attack the church. In addition, each of them personally participated in the attacks". Rutaganira's initial appearance was due to have taken place ten days ago but was adjourned to give him more time to read the indictment. In his brief appearance ten days ago, Rutaganira said that he was a man who had "worked for peace and justice" all his life. The hearing was before judge Andresia Vaz of Senegal. Rutaganira was represented in court by duty counsel Francis Musey of Tanzania. Lawyers Charles Phillips of Nigeria and the UK, Wallace Kapaya of Tanzania and Boi tia Stevens of the US are representing the prosecution. GG/FH(RT-0326e)