Arusha, February 25, 2002 (FH) - Prosecution in the case of former Rwandan mayor and genocide suspect Laurent Semanza on Monday dismissed a claim by the accused that parts of a statement he had written were 'erased' after he signed the document. Semanza is testifying in his own defence before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).

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Prosecutor Chile Eboe Osuji of Canada and Nigeria told the court that Semanza's claim that his statement, made after he was arrested in 1996, was altered was "baseless" and "an after thought" made in order to avoid conviction. Semanza claims a date "April 9th 1994" was erased from the statement he made to Cameroonian authorities on his arrest. He testified earlier that parts of the statement he made were "rubbed". The date is important because it touches on Semanza's alibi. Semanza is charged with 14 counts of genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide and crimes against humanity, including rape and persecution in Bicumbi and Gikoro communes. He has pleaded not guilty. The 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. Osuji put it to the accused that apart from the single claim that he was not in Bicumbi commune on April 9th, he has "no other alibi". The defence maintains that Semanza left Bicumbi on April 8th and some defence witnesses concurred with that, giving him an alibi. But Osuji said he would continue to attack the proposition that "the Cameroonian authorities deliberately or unwittingly attempted to rob the accused of his alibi". He said there was a contradiction because on one hand, the defence said the Cameroonian authorities were "diligent" in handling Semanza's issue. And on the other hand, Semanza was claiming his statement was altered. He said if anything was altered, it was tantamount to fraud. Semanza was transferred to the ICTR from Cameroon in November 1997. Semanza's defence objected to the prosecutor's use of the word "fraud" in relation to Cameroonian authorities saying that if an individual tampered with Semanza's statement, it should not be termed as "Cameroonian authorities". The former mayor continues with his testimony Tuesday, when the prosecution is expected to complete its cross-questioning. Semanza's testimony will mark the end of the defence case. Closing arguments by defence and prosecution are scheduled for May. The case started on October 16th, 2000 before Trial Chamber Three of the ICTR, 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-0225e)