Arusha, February 28, 2002 (FH) - Former Rwandan mayor of Bicumbi (Kigali province, central Rwanda) on trial for genocide on Thursday completed his testimony before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). The prosecution sought, for the first time at the ICTR, to call rebuttal witnesses, a move strongly objected to by the defence.

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"This is the first time in the practice of the Tribunal that prosecution has decided to call rebuttal witnesses," presiding judge, Yakov Ostrovsky said. He added that this was within the rules of procedure. But Semanza's lawyers Charles Taku of Cameroon and USA and Sadikou Alao of Benin said that the prosecution was attempting to "reopen the case" and to "bring in new elements" through the rebuttal. However, prosecutor Chile Eboe Osuji maintained that in rebuttal he would deal with issues arising from the defence case. He said among these issues are a forensic report and a document put forward by the prosecution containing a statement made by Semanza. The accused had earlier testified that a statement he made to Cameroonian authorities, on his arrest had been "rubbed". Semanza claimed a date, 'April 9th 1994', was erased. This date is important because it touches on his alibi. On Thursday, Osuji said that he was in possession of a photocopy of the said statement from the Kenyan Police Criminal Investigations Department (CID) headquarters in Nairobi. He intends to pursue the issue of the "erased" portions of the statement in rebuttal. The prosecutor asked the court to allow him time up to Tuesday next week, to provide details to the court on the extent of the rebuttal case. Defence immediately said it would also call witnesses as a rejoinder to the prosecution's rebuttal. This new development may affect the earlier schedule for closing arguments. Semanza has been testifying in his defence since February 13th. The final stage of his testimony was partially disrupted by heated exchanges between thedefence and prosecution, which continued after the defendant's testimony prompting the Chamber's intervention. He is charged with 14 counts of genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide and crimes against humanity, including rape and persecution in his Bicumbi commune and nearby Galore commune. He has pleaded not guilty. Prosecution maintains that he was involved in planning the killing of Tutsis, including training of militia and distribution of weapons in his commune. Semanza allegedly committed the crimes between April 9th and 13th, 1994. He was arrested in Cameroon in 1996 and transferred to the ICTR in 1997. In his testimony, Semanza maintained that he left Bicumbi on April 8th and that the allegations by the prosecution witnesses were "fabricated". Some defence witnesses concurred with this, providing him with an alibi. Semanza repeatedly testified that "there was no genocide in Rwanda in 1994". On Thursday he reiterated that to his knowledge, genocide was the extermination of a race. And that according to fleeing refugees who informed him on the killings while he was in exile, "both Hutus and Tutsis died. "The court will inform concerned parties when the hearing will resume, as prosecution prepares for rebuttal. This case is alternating before Trial Chamber Three with the so-called "Cyangugu case" of three genocide suspects, which is set to resume on March 4th. The Chamber is composed of judges Yakov Ostrovsky of Russia (presiding), Lloyd George Williams of St. Kitts and Nevis and Pavel Dolenc of Slovenia. SW/JA/FH (SE-0228g)