Arusha, October 13, 2003 (FH) – Four witnesses testified on Monday in favour of genocide suspect and former Mayor and of Rusumo commune, Sylvestre Gacumbitsi, at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. It is quite exceptional that so many witnesses appear at the stand on the same day in a trial at the ICTR.

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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. All the witnesses are refugees in Tanzania and testified using code names to protect their identity. They all delcared they never heard that the accused gave orders for massacres or rapes to be perpetrated. The first witness, identified as XW9, told the court that he did not hear Gacumbitsi giving orders to stop people from crossing the border into Tanzania. He said that “the customs post was open, vehicles, people and even cattle were crossing freely. ”According to him, the responsibility for the massacres committed in his commune has to be put on “bandits looking for money and other goods. ” “Apart from those bandits, he added, the population was quite united. ”The next witness, XW10, stated that the accused helped Tutsis cross the Akagera river to seek refuge in neighbouring Tanzania, although he acknowledged he did not eye witness the scene. “Other people told me he did that”, he explained. XW10 also said that he never saw Gacumbitsi come to the secteur after the death of Habyarimana on the 6th of April, 1994 adding that, “the small number of Tutsis living in the secteur continued to live there. They were not persecuted as I was among them”. Replying to a question put to him during chief examination by the defence co-counsel, Anna Mbattang of Cameroon, XW10 said that he never heard the former mayor inciting people to rape and assault Tutsi women. Th prosecutor accuses Gacumbitsi of circulating about Rusumo in a vehicle announcing by megaphone that Tutsi women should be raped and sexually degraded. Witness XW11 testified on the same lines as the two witness. He said he worked as a canoeist helping people including Gacumbitsi and his family to cross the river into Tanzania. “There was no segregation, there were all ethnic groups, Hutus, Tutsis and Twa and I never heard nor saw people being prohibited from crossing the river” he said. Part of the indictment states that on or about 12 April 1994, the former mayor ordered soldiers and boatmen along the lakes in Gisenyi secteur to stop refugees in flight from escaping across the border into Tanzania. The last defence witness to testify on Monday, XW1 stated that Gacumbitsi went to one of his counsellor's house to help release one Kazungu who had been arrested on April 9th, and taken to that counsellor's (Sebijojo) house. Kazungu was suspected of intelligence with the RPF, then at war with the government, the witness said. XW1 also said that when the mayor came to Komkabwa secteur passing through Gisenyi, “he asked us to be united and not to use the president's death as a pretext to jeopardize the situation”. XW1 is the ninth defence witness to testify since October 6th, when the defence started its case. His cross-examination was the longest of the day. Witness requests helpFor the first time at the tribunal, a witness, XW10, requested the trial chamber after completing his testimony, to help him “contact the UNHCR so that a third country could be located for him where he could seek asylum”. Presiding judge, Adresia Vaz of Senegal informed him that the judges have no jurisdiction over that matter but he should write a letter and they would see “what could be done”. The witness told the court that he has lived in Tanzania since 1994 and that he had previously been a refugee in Congo and Burundi. He told the court that he could not return to Rwanda because he would face difficulties there. The trial has been adjourned to Wednesday when the testimonies of three new witnesses scheduled to testify before the end of the week will be heard. Tuesday is a public holiday in Tanzania. Gacumbitsi's trial is before Trial Chamber Three, which is presided over by Senegalese judge and ICTR vice-president Andresia Vaz, assisted by judges judge Jai Ram Reddy from Fiji and Serguei Aleckseivich Egorov from Russia. Judge Jai Ram Reddy did not attend the hearing on Monday. He was away for personal reasons. SV/CE/FH (GA1310e)