Arusha, February 7, 2002 (FH) - Genocide suspect and Adventist pastor Elizaphan Ntakirutimana left Mugonero church complex early in the morning of April 16th 1994, hours before killings at the complex started, a defence witness told the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) on Thursday. This protected witness is the first alibi witness in the case.

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At the time of the 1994 genocide Elizaphan, 77, was pastor of the Seventh Day Adventist church mission at Mugonero in Kibuye, western Rwanda. He is jointly charged with his son Gerald Ntakirutimana, 44. Gerald was a medical doctor at the infirmary, which lay in the same complex. The Ntakirutimanas are accused of luring Tutsis to their complex with the promise of safety, then bringing militias and soldiers to kill them. According to prosecution, an estimated 5,000 Tutsis were killed in the complex. Several prosecution witnesses have testified that the killings there started between 8 a. m. and 10 a. m. local time on April 16th, 1994. "We left Mugonero with the pastor and Gerald between 5 a. m. and 8 a. m. on April 16th," said the witness, dubbed only "Witness Number Four" to shield his identity. The witness said he was a Hutu whose father had worked at Mugonero church as a pastor. Witness Number Four said that he and Pastor Ntakirutimana's family had fled to nearby Gishyita, because of increased insecurity. He said they returnedto Mugonero about two weeks later. The witness said that during his stay at Gishyita commune offices with the Ntakirutimanas, the pastor had not left the commune compound. The witness told the court that on his return to Mugonero, Pastor Ntakirutimana had resumed his normal church duties. The witness further testified that Pastor Ntakirutimana was a respectable and loved elder in Mugonero. Witness Number Four continued his testimony under cross-examination by the prosecution. He is the third of 34 scheduled defence witness. The case is before Trial Chamber One of the ICTR, composed of judges Erik Mose of Norway (presiding), Navanethem Pillay of South Africa and judge Andrésia Vaz of Senegal. GG/JC/FH (NK-0207f)