Arusha, February 13, 2002 (FH) - Former Rwandan mayor Laurent Semanza on Wednesday started testifying in his own defence before the InternationalCriminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). Semanza is the last witness in his own genocide trial.

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The accused is a former mayor of Bicumbi in Kigali Rural province, central Rwanda. He has pleaded not guilty to 14 counts of genocide and crimes against humanity. The prosecution says he helped plan, organize and carry out massacres of Tutsis in Bicumbi and Gikoro communes during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. At the start of his testimony, Semanza, 58, said he was born in Musasa commune and attended Rwankuba Primary School in Rushashi commune, KigaliRural. Semanza told the court that he went to school with both Hutus and Tutsis and had "good relations" with Tutsis. He also said that his family had good relations with the Catholic Church. "I am a Catholic," he said, in response to questioning from his lawyer, Charles Taku of Cameroon and USA. "I am married with eight children. Initially I had ten but I lost two. "Semanza was mayor of Bicumbi until 1993. At the time of the genocide, he was a nominated member of parliament of the former presidential party MRND, and was allegedly very influential. He was arrested in Cameroon and transferred to the UN Detention Facility in Arusha in November, 1997. Prosecution maintains that Semanza was instrumental in killings of refugees at the Musha Parish in Gikoro commune, near Bicumbi. He allegedly led attacks on villagers in Bicumbi and Gikoro between April 9th and April 13th, 1994. Prosecution also says that Semanza personally participated in the killing of refugees at Musha church on April 13th, 1994. His defence maintains that his indictment is a result of "political vendetta". A number of defence witnesses have testified that he was "an exemplary leader" and was well loved by the people in Bicumbi commune. Some defence witnesses testified that Semanza fled Bicumbi on the night of April 8th, 1994. The trial started on October 16th, 2000, before Trial Chamber Three of the ICTR, composed of judges Yakov Ostrovsky of Russia (presiding), LloydGeorge Williams of St. Kitts and Nevis and Pavel Dolenc of Slovenia. SW/JC/FH (SE-0213e)