Arusha, October 9, 2003 (FH) – The September session of the trial of four former senior Rwandan army officers (ex-FAR) was adjourned on October 3rd, to November 3rd, at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). The session began on September 1st.

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The prosecution called 9 witnesses, all protected. Unlike the previous sessions, most of the witnesses called this time mainly implicated the former commander of the Kanombe Para-military battalion in Kigali, Major Aloys Ntabakuze, with little or no mention of the other accused. The so-called “Military I” trial is considered as the most important ever brought before the tribunal. Apart from Ntabakuze, the other accused are the former director of cabinet in the ministry of defence, Colonel Théoneste Bagosora, the former head of military operations of the army and, according to the acusation, the “brains” behind the genocide, General Gratien Kabiligi, and the former army commander of Gisenyi region, Lt. Colonel Anatole Nsengiyumva,The prosecution considers the four officers as the principle architects of the anti-Tutsi genocide and massacres of political opponents that claimed the lives of about one million people between April and July 1994. All have pleaded not guilty. Specific allegationsThe prosecution produced some former members of the Para-commando battalion in order to prove the case against their former commander, Major Ntabakuze. Witnesses XAI and DBQ declared in their testimonies that Ntabakuze ordered the killings of Tutsis on the night of April 6, shortly after the assassination of former president Habyarimana. The accused is said to have declared that “the president is not going to die like a dog”. Witness DP made the same allegations but placed the incident at a different date. He said that the accused gave the order on April 7 “at around 11 o'clock”. Another protected witness code-named AR alleged that on April 11, Colonel Bagosora ordered the killing of thousands of Tutsi refugees in Kicukiro commune. However, the witness based his allegations on the fact that he had seen Bagosora aboard a military jeep as the refugees were being escorted by soldiers towards a place called Nyanza in Kicukiro. Though the witness never actually heard Bagosora give the order, he assumed that his presence was an indication of his involvement because shortly afterwards, the soldiers started killing the refugees. Other witnesses also alleged that Bagosora had distributed weapons to militia on the morning of April 7. XXC told the court that though he had not personally seen Bagosora distribute arms, he had been told of the fact by “some friends who had received the weapons”. Witness AS testified that Anatole Nsengiyumva had facilitated her crossing the border into the former Zaire, despite the fact that Interahamwe militia had refused them passage. Nevertheless AS did not actually pinpoint Nsengiyumva's alleged responsibility of the killings of Tutsis in Gisenyi though the prosecution maintains that Nsengiyumva had de-facto control over militia in Gisenyi during the genocide. As for Gratien Kabiligi, a witness named XAI said that in 1992, while the accused was military commander in Byumba (northern Rwanda), he had ordered that all those suspected of being rebel spies be killed. Ntabakuze's lawyer threatens to resignThe September session had its fair share of controversy. First came the bomb shell by Professor Peter Erlinder, Ntabakuzes lead counsel. He threatened that “either the tribunal strips me of the duties of lead counsel or I resign”. Erlinder's threats were triggered by the denial of his motion for a separate trial claiming that “there is a big difference between Ntabakuze's liability and that of the other accused. The tiral chamber also refused to postpone calling witnesses who implicated his client. “In the name of fairness, the order of appearance of witnesses has to be changed”, he said, arguing that he needed adequate time to prepare as he had just recently been assigned to the case. He said that he would be forced to take drastic steps if his motion was not granted. In denying his request to postpone witnesses until November, the chamber ruled that his co-counsel, André Tremblay, “had the knowledge, the experience and was sufficiently prepared to go forward”. Tremblay has been in Ntabakuze's defence team ever since the trial began, in April 2002. More complaints from the defenceOn many occasions, members of the former officers' defence teams complained of the prosecution's “frequent” change of the order of appearance of witnesses thereby “disrupting the work of the defence”. They also criticised the introduction of what they termed as “new evidence” and “going off course of the tribunal's field of competence” by introducing pre-1994 elements in witness testimonies. The ICTR is mandated to try crimes committed between January 1 and December 31, 1994. Counsels for the defence unanimously warned the chamber that accepting that line of questioning “would lead to excessively long cross-examinations”. But the prosecutor maintained that in the context of the Rwandan genocide, “there are causalities between 1990 and 1994”. Ruling on the defence's objection, the presiding judge of Trial Chamber One, Erik Møse from Norway, pointed out that “the chamber would on its own discretion judge what elements in the testimony were convincing”. All the testimonies of the nine prosecution witnesses during this session were dismissed by the defence claiming that they were “pure speculation”. The prosecutor said that she would finish presenting her evidence in June 2004, instead of the end of this year as she had announced in July, 2003. At that time she had declared that she would limit herself only to the “most important witness”. The prosecution announced that it intended to call a further 40 witnesses during the November-December sessionJudge Møse is assisted in Chamber One by Serguei Aleckseievich Egorov from Russia, and Jai Ram Reddy from Fiji. The next session of the “Military I” trial will begin on November 3, 2003. KN/GA/CE/FH (ML'1009e)