Arusha, February 20, 2002 (FH) - Former Rwandan mayor and genocide suspect Laurent Semanza on Wednesday told the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) that he was unaware of, and did not participate in the planning of killings in 1994. Some one million people died in the genocide, according to an official Rwandan survey.

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Semanza has been testifying in his own defence before the ICTR for five days. "I could not even watch someone slaughter a chicken and even while driving a vehicle, I could not even run over a snake, I would stop and let it pass," he said. The former mayor of Bicumbi in Kigali Rural province, central Rwanda, said if he had known there had been "planning to commit such crimes" (that occurred in 1994), he would have objected. "I would have denounced those plans", he said. Semanza said in response to his own lawyers' questions that during his tenure as mayor, he tried to create harmony between Hutus and Tutsis in his commune. Charles Taku of Cameroon and USA and Sadikou Alao of Benin are representing him. Most of the hearing on Wednesday was in closed session at the request of Semanza's defence. At the end of his testimony, Semanza addressed the court, attempting to raise particular legal issues. "I am here almost at the end of my trial without being able to understand the documents," he said. The court advised him to focus on the evidence against him as testified by prosecution witnesses. Semanza said that the allegations against him were not true and that the witnesses had "fabricated" their evidence. He said that having been a mayor in Bicumbi commune for close to thirty years, he would not have turned back to destroy the development projects he implemented and to destroy the people there who helped him. 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. Semanza continues his testimony on Thursday morning with cross-questioning by the prosecution. This case is 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-0220g)