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Kigali, December 20th 2006 (FH) - The Rwandan Minister of Justice, Mr. Tharcisse Karugarama, declared Tuesday that the proceedings of the popular gacaca tribunals, in charge of judging the majority of the suspects of the 1994 genocide, would be over by the end of 2007. The minister, whose speech aired on the national radio - Radio Rwanda, was attending the « national consultation conference » which opened last Monday in Kigali under the chairmanship of the President of the country, Paul Kagame. Karugarama added that since their extension to the whole country last July, gacaca courts have judged almost 40,000 persons. Moreover, he continued, charges have been presses against almost 700,000 persons for their alleged participation in the 1994 genocide which made close to one million dead, members of the Tutsi community in majority, according to Kigali. The minister concluded by saying how concerned he was about the problems of security the survivors of the genocide, the witnesses as well as the « uncorrupted persons » sitting in the gacaca courts are confronted to. From 118 experimental courts until mid-July, the gacaca system has been extended to the whole territory. Gacaca jurisdictions are not entitled to judge alleged genociders of the first category which comprises the thinkers and planners of the genocide as well as the rapists. The defendants of this category face charges that carry the death penalty, a sentence the Rwandan authorities want to strike off from their criminal code. Gacaca follow directly from ancient assemblies during which the wise men of a village used to settle disagreements whilst sitting on the grass (gacaca, in Kinyarwanda). These courts can pronounce a maximum penalty of 30 years of imprisonment. ER/ © Hirondelle News Agency