Arusha, February 28, 2003 (FH) - Prosecution witnesses testifying against genocide suspect and former Rwandan minister of Information, Eliezer Niyitegeka, were highly unreliable and incredible, the former minister's defence told the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) during its closing arguments on Friday. Defence counsel Sylvia Hannah Geraghty of Ireland discredited each of the twelve witnesses presented during the prosecution case.

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She described some of them as ‘accomplices' in the crimes Niyitegeka is charged of, and others likely to have vested interests in convicting Niyitegeka. The defence has asked the court to dismiss the prosecution case. The prosecution presented its closing arguments on Thursday. They said that there was “irrefutable” evidence that Niyitegeka is guilty of seven counts of genocide and crimes against humanity. They asked for a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. The chamber will now retire to deliberate on the judgement. Presiding Judge Navanethem Pillay of South Africa announced that the chamber would, at the end of March or beginning of April, announce the date of the judgement to the parties. It is the first time in the history of the tribunal that an indication of the time of delivery of a judgement has been given at such a stage. Niyitegeka, 50, is mainly accused of being one of the leaders of attacks on ethnic Tutsi refugees in the Bisesero hills (Kibuye province, west Rwanda) at the time of the 1994 genocide. Besides allegedly leading gangs of armed militias to kill the refugees in the hills, Niyitegeka is personally accused of murdering at least five people and raping a young girl. According to prosecution evidence, he ordered the killing of the girl after raping her. This trial opened in June 2002 and closed in November of the same year. It was held alternately with other trials taking place in the same chamber. It is one of the fastest trials in the history of the tribunal. Niyitegeka's defence also denied prosecution allegations that their client had been “a man of means and an influential person”. “He had only just been appointed minister. How and when could he have attained such influence?”, quizzed Geraghty. She also highlighted the testimony of some defence witnesses that Niyitegeka and his family had been a subject of attacks from militias during the genocide. She said that he was a victim of his“democratic principles”. Furthermore, the defence reiterated its position that there was “a force” behind prosecution witnesses that had come to testify. The defence has previously talked of a “network” of genocide survivors run by former prefect of Kibuye, Asiel Kabera inducing and forcing witnesses to denounce Niyitegeka. The defence has also accused the current Tutsiled government in Kigali of interfering with trials at the ICTR. The trial is before Trial Chamber One of the ICTR comprising Judges Pillay(presiding), Erik Møse of Norway and Andresia Vaz of Senegal. Møse wasn'tpresent on the bench on Friday. GG/CE/FH(NI'0228e)