Arusha, February 11, 2002 (FH) - An expert defence witness in the genocide trial of former Bicumbi mayor Laurent Semanza on Monday told the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) that the accused was not as powerful as he had been portrayed. This view contradicts several prosecution witnesses who referred to Semanza as a "powerful and influential man".

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"I have said it and I confirm that for me he was not an important person in the Republic of Rwanda," Antoine Nyetera told the court. Nyetera, a Tutsi of royal descent, is the 25th defence witness in the case. Nyetera said Semanza had no control over the military as alleged, and had no political power by 1993 because he was no longer mayor. "We never had a situation where a civilian had control over the military," Nyetera said. A prosecution witness, French sociologist André Guichaoua, said in his testimony last year that research he conducted in the Bicumbi area prompted him to title his report "Semanza: Le Grand Bourgmestre" (Semanza The Great Mayor). Nyetera also told the court that Semanza was not as rich as alleged. He said Semanza had property acquired through loans, but that this could be considered as "average" compared to other rich people in Rwanda at the time. "He was not rich, he had two houses which were not even four-storied," said Nyetera. The witness told the court he had heard that Semanza left the district together with his whole family on the night of April 8th, 1994. He said Semanza could not have been at the Musha Parish Church in Gikoro district. "I don't believe he had the ability to be in two places at the same time," Nyetera commented. Prosecution witnesses have testified that Semanza was involved in the killing of Tutsis who sought refuge in the Musha Parish in Gikoro commune, near Bicumbi. Semanza allegedly committed the crimes between April 9th and 13th, 1994. Prosecution raised frequent objections during Nyetera's testimony, sometimes prompting the Chamber to intervene. Prosecutor Chile Eboe Osujiof Canada and Nigeria argued that the witness was giving opinions like an expert witness, and yet he was not one. The court said there was "a delicate line" between what a factual witness and what and expert witness could say. It reminded Nyetera to keep to relevant issues, but allowed him to continue. Nyetera was initially listed as an expert witness but the court ruled that he would testify as a factual witness after prosecution raised objections over his expertise. 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. His defence maintains that he is a victim of "political vendetta". Nyetera continues with his testimony on Tuesday morning with cross-questioning by the prosecution. The 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/JC/FH (SE-0210e)