Arusha, October 15, 2003 (FH) – A defence witness told the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) on Wednesday that Sylvestre Gacumbitsi, the former mayor of Rusumo commune, Kibungo prefecture, was not present atNyarabuye parish when it was attacked on the 15th of April 1994. Nyarubuye parish was the scene, in mid-April 1994, of massive massacres led, according to the prosecution, by the accused.

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They left about 20,000 people dead. The witness, code-named ZHZ to protect his identity, told the court during chief examination by Counsel Anne Mbattang of Cameroon that, “during the time I was at Nyarabuye parish I did not see Gacumbitsi nor any communal officials. ”He instead blamed the massacres on, “persons who arrived from other communes with a pre-established plan to loot, kill, rape and thereafter return to their locality. ” He mentioned Rukira commune as one of these localities. He added that in his secteur, “the population was united. I don't know of anyone from our secteur that either killed or looted. ”ZHZ also said that while at the parish in Nyarabuye he “never heard anyone incite to loot, kill or rape. ” The prosecutor accuses Gacumbitsi of circulating about Rusumo in a vehicle announcing by megaphone that Tutsiwomen should be raped and sexually degraded. In another instance ZHZ said, the people of Nyarabuye were threatened in anonymous leaflets distributed on the morning of the 14th because they had given refuge to people who, “killed the head of state” He said people taking refuge in Nyarabuye had fled the neighboring communes of Rukira and Nyabitare secteurs and came to Nyarabuye “because it was calm”. The next witness, NG1, was entirely heard in closed session. The twelfth defence witness, YEW, was chief-examined by counsel Kouengoua of Cameroon late in the afternoon. He testified along the same lines as previous witnesses, saying he did not hear the bourgmestre ordering people to rape Tutsi women. YEW added that unknown groups of criminals no longer recognized Gacumbitsi's authority as a mayor and accused him of being an accomplice of the RPF, the former Tutsi rebel group then at war with the government. He will be cross-examined on Thursday by the prosecution. When they started presenting their case, on October 6th, the defence announced that they would call to the stand “between 20 and 23 witnesses. ” However, the lead counsel, Kouengoua, from Cameroon, hinted on Wednesday that he may renounce to presenting some of them to speed up the procedure. Gacumbitsi, 56, is charged with five counts, which include genocide, or in the alternative complicity in genocide, extermination, murder and rape as crimes against humanity in relation with massacres of Tutsis perpetrated in several locations in his commune during the 1994 genocide. He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges. This trial is one of the fastest in the history of the ICTR. It is before Trial Chamber Three, which is presided over by Senegalese judge and ICTR vice-president Andresia Vaz, assisted by judges Jai Ram Reddy from Fiji and Serguei Aleckseivich Egorov from Russia. Judge Reddy, who is away for family reasons, has not sat since Monday. SV/CE/FH (GA1510e)