Arusha, February 26, 2004 (FH) - The acquittal Wednesday of two former Rwandan government officials by International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), raised mixed reactions from different stake holders. The two, former minister of transport and communications, André Ntagerura, and the former Prefect of Cyangugu (south western Rwanda), Emmanuel Bagambiki, were acquitted on all charges by the court which ordered their immediate release.

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Their other co-accused, the former commander of Karambo military barracks in Cyangugu, Lieutenant Samuel Imanishimwe, was not so lucky. He was found guilty of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes and sentenced to 27 years in jail. His lead counsel, Marie-Louise Mbida from Cameroon was, for understandable reasons, not satisfied with the outcome. "I am disappointed by the sentencing of my client", she said, adding that she was immediately going to file for an appeal. But she was consoled that Imanishimwe was not convicted for his personal responsibility. It had been alleged that soldiers under his command, and with his full knowledge, had carried out wide spread massacres in Cyangugu. "I think the judges concluded that the soldiers came from Cyangugu, but it was not proven that they came from Cyangugu barracks which was under my client's responsibility", announced a partly relieved Mbida. It did not take long for the prosecution to show its displeasure at the verdict. Richard Karegyesa, the lead trial attorney in this case, made it be known to the court that they would be appealing the decision. The chief prosecutor of the ICTR Hassan Boubacar Jallow, was sitting next to Karegyesa when the verdict was read out and confirmed the prosecution's next phase. "We intend to appeal and we shall be filing our papers in the Appeals Chamber shortly", he announced to Hirondelle News Agency. Obviously Bagambiki and Ntagerura's defence teams were elated as much as their clients. "I have received the verdict with great joy", announced Bagambiki, a short while after the court rendered its verdict. "I have been waiting for six years for this, and throughout the period I was detained, I was collecting evidence to prove my innocence", he said. His counsel, Vincent Lurquin from Belgium was even more effusive, heaping praises on the tribunal with he said had demonstrated that it could come to "courageous" and "totally independent decisions based upon laboriously reviewing the evidence". He dismissed any intention to file for damages for the time his client has spent behind bars. "What is important is that he is innocent", stated Lurquin, who was relieved that Bagambiki was not convicted for being a prefect during the genocide. "We had feared that he would be judged for the position he held and not for his personal responsibility, which was not the case this time", ended the Belgian lawyer. The head of Ntagerura's defence team Benoit Henry from Canada was optimistic that any disapproval of the Rwandan government could be contained in the long run. "Ntagerura was of course a minister in the interim government, but it is hard to speculate on what the reaction will be", he said. "It is my hope that with time, with a careful analysis of the evidence they will come to accept the verdict". But Kigali was quick to react and condemn what the former representative to the ICTR, and currently Rwanda's deputy Prosecutor General, Martin Ngoga, called "a big joke". "We are very much disappointed", declared Ngoga, adding that it was "a very unpopular decision, especially in Cyangugu, and is not without consequences in terms of public confidence in the tribunal". The spokesperson of the ICTR, Roland Amoussouga came to the rescue of the judges' decision. "This is an independent and impartial tribunal which has to follow the process of assessing evidence and rendering a decision", he said. He continued that the onus was on the prosecutor to prove the alleged crimes "beyond reasonable doubt". "In this case the prosecutor has failed to prove his case beyond reasonable doubt. The judges found the evidence unconvincing", declared Amoussouga. He continued that the fact the judges disagreed and dissented "showed that they take the trials very seriously". The presiding Judge of Trial Chamber Three Judge Lloyd George Williams of St. Kitts and Nevis was the only dissenting judge who believed in Bagambiki's guilt. The other two judges sitting on the bench were Yakov of Russia and Pavel Dolenc of Slovenia. This is the last trial the two judges will conduct at the ICTR. Judge Ostrovsky is going into retirement, while Dolenc's mandate was not renewed. KN/AT/FH (CY''0226E)