Arusha, March 7, 2002 (FH) - Former Rwandan Transport Minister André Ntagerura, on trial for genocide crimes in Cyangugu southwest Rwanda, did not frequent the region during the 1994 events, the first defence witness told the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, on Thursday. A witness known as "DBH" to protect his identity, told the court that Ntagerura's visits were not as frequent between 1992 and 1994 as they had earlier been because his official role "had diminished".

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According to DBH, with the privatization of the telephone industry, the minister's duties, which included communications, were much reduced. DBH's testimony contradicted that of prosecution witnesses who testified before the same chamber about events involving the minister in Cyangugu in 1994. DBH is testifying in the case that groups Ntagerura, with former Cyangugu prefect Emmanuel Bagambiki and former commander of the Karambo military camp inCyangugu, Samuel Imanishimwe. They are jointly accused of genocide and crimes against humanity. Prosecutors say the three accused acted together to try to eliminate the Tutsi population, notably in the Cyangugu region. According to the prosecution, more than 100,000 Tutsis were slaughtered in Cyangugu in the space of 23 days. However, a recent official census of genocide victims by the Rwandan government puts the figure for the region at 59,786. Ntagerura is said to have allowed or authorised the use of government vehicles, specifically buses for the transportation of [Interahamwe] militia, and for the transportation of arms and ammunitions to Cyangugu prefecture. "From January 1st to April 6th, 1994 did you see André Ntagerura in Cyangugu?" Ntagerura's lead counsel Canadian Benoit Henry asked DBH. "I never saw Ntagerura and I never even heard that he had visited Cyangugu", DBH told the court. He said that Ntagerura's visit to Cyangugu would have not have taken place unnoticed because whenever he was around people always went to meet him. A prosecution witness, dubbed "LAI", had testified last September that former minister Ntagerura arrived in a helicopter at Bugarama commune south of Cyangugu at the beginning of 1994. LAI also said local authorities were waiting for him, as his visit had been announced. Separately, another witness "LAH" told the court that the former Minister told a group of attackers in Cyangugu "to forward identity cards of the deceased Tutsi to a local trader". He claimed that Ntagerura had said that the identity cards were to assist in ensuring that the people "were systematically eliminated. "Most of the evidence by witness DBH was heard in closed session because defence counsel said some issues raised would touch on protection of identity. Canadian Benoit Henry and Hamuli Rety of France and the Democratic Republic of Congo, represent Ntagerura. In his opening statement on Wednesday afternoon, Henry described Ntagerura as a man from a "modest background". "Very early in life he learnt that hard work was the way to success," said Henry. The counsel said that his client studied hard to become a university lecturer and that although Ntagerura had no political links, he rose from being a university lecturer to a ministerial post. "With each government reshuffle, he thought it was time for him to go back to the university but (president Juvénal) Habyarimana thought otherwise, noticing the worth of this indefatigable worker," Henry said. This case is before Trial Chamber Three composed of judges Lloyd George Williams of St. Kitts and Nevis (presiding), Yakov Ostrovsky of Russia, and Pavel Dolenc of Slovenia. Prior to the start of Ntagerura's defence case, the chamber dismissed an earlier motion by his counsel. His defence had objected to the prosecution's introduction of "thirty one new elements in Ntagerura's indictment", and was contesting the alleged additional elements. SW/JA/FH (CY-0307e)