Arusha, February 6, 2002 (FH) - The defence team of former Bicumbi mayor Laurent Semanza, on trial for genocide before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), on Wednesday claimed that two Rwandan members of their team had received threatening messages from Kigali. But in a swift reaction shortly afterwards, Rwanda's representative to the ICTR Martin Ngoga denied the claims, saying they were "criminal in nature" and that Kigali "dismisses these allegations with contempt".

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Semanza's co-counsel Sadikou Alao of Benin told the court that one of his investigators, Joseph Mushyandi, had received an E-mail message threatening him and saying that he should leave Arusha immediately. Alao said that another investigator, Aloys Nyilingondo, was also sent a message stating that he should leave Arusha otherwise "his life was in danger". The defence counsel said these messages originated from the "Kigali Intelligence" and that they came from "sufficiently high levels". According to Alao, the investigators are in danger of being "kidnapped" by Rwandan policemen present in Arusha. In a written statement, Ngoga said the claims were part of a wider campaign by defence teams at the ICTR to malign the Government of Rwanda. Ngoga said the ICTR Chambers should not allow themselves to become defence counsels' forum for slandering third parties not involved in the proceedings. "The Government of Rwanda observes that the authority of the Tribunal will better serve the purpose for which it was created, and put its resources to proper use if it will accordingly deal with elements of gross irresponsibility and lack of seriousness taking place in its structures," says Ngoga's statement. He says that "there is immediate need for the Tribunal to reassert its authority and maintain the dignity and integrity of its proceedings". "Don't panic!""We do not want to panic, we want to remain serene, but at the same time we thought it was better to bring it to your attention," Alao told the court. He showed copies of the messages, which are in Kinyarwanda, and said he would forward them to the Chamber. Prosecution said it had no knowledge of the issue until defence brought it up in court. Prosecutor Chile Eboe Osuji of Canada and Nigeria said there ought to be "selectivity" in what was brought before the court. "We don't know when somebody is crying wolf," he said. Commenting on the issue, judge Lloyd Williams of St Kitts and Nevis said the defence could have discussed the issue out of the Chambers, before coming to court and "making a public display. " The court asked the Registry to investigate the issue. Semanza, a former mayor of Bicumbi (Kigali province in central Rwanda), 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 case is before ICTR's Trial Chamber Three, 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-0206e)