Arusha, October 6, 2003 (FH) – The lead defense counsel of genocide suspect and former mayor of Rusumo commune, Sylvestre Gacumbitsi, on Monday discredited the prosecution witnesses during his opening statement at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). 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 inseveral locations in his commune in 1994.

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He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges. “Witnesses TBK and TBI killed, looted and committed arson but they were never prosecuted”, counsel Kouengoua said. As to witness TAP, “he violated the rules of procedure and evidence by presenting before the court on the 6th of August, 2003 information regarding serious acts which the prosecutor had no chance of hearing before and which were not included in theindictment”, he said. More generally, counsel Kouengoua qualified the indictment as being « vague and highly imprecise ». He also accused BBC journalist and prosecution witness Feagal Keane for relying on the RPF for information. “A journalist brought here by the prosecution was not investigative nor did he have any evidence, he was told by the RPF of the corpses in front of him,” he stated. He challenged the prosecution by adding that, “the defense intends to produce a document which will show that the document produced by the journalist was produced by the RPF and not the journalist who received awards in 1994 and 1995 for shooting video images of the pain faced by the people of Rwanda during the genocide”The defense counsel went on to praise the accused by describing him on different occasions as a very religious man, innocent and good, who drank and exchanged information with all people. He also depicted the accused as aresponsible family man. “He was the type of mayor people in Rwanda dreamed about,” he concluded. The prosecutor accuses Gacumbitsi for being responsible for the biggest massacre that took place in Nyarabuye, which left about 20,000 people dead. Part of the indictment states “On the 15th of April, 1994, Gacumbitsi ordered and participated himself in the massacre of Nyarabuye. “He came back on the 16th and the 17th to supervise the killings which he executed with efficiency the plan of exterminating Tutsis”. After his opening statement, counsel Kouengua presented two protected witnesses named UA3 and ZEZ to protect their identity. Witness UA3 testified entirely in closed session in the morning. ZEZ presented the accused as a generous man who did all he could to protect without discrimination the population of his commune. He added that he never heard the former mayor inciting people in Nyarabuye to kill Tutsis or rape Tutsis women. In this trial the defense argues that most of the killings at Nyarabuye were orchestrated by the RPF, the Tutsi-dominated rebel movement, now in power in Kigali. The trial 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. The trial continues on Tuesday. SV/CE/FH (GA0610e)