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Arusha, April 24, 2007 (FH) – The former magistrate Simeon Nshamihigo did not order the murder of a Tutsi priest in 1994, a witness Tuesday stated at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).
Accused of genocide and numerous assassinations, Nshamihigo, a former senior prosecutor in Cyangugu (southwest Rwanda) has been presenting his defense since Monday.
Tuesday, a defense witness, the second out of 50 announced, exculpated him of the assassination of the priest Joseph Bonesha committed in May at the entrance to the commercial center of Kamembe, Cyangugu.  “I confirm that I did not see it,” the witness declared who indicated that he knew the defendant.  “There were many people there.  In any case, I’m not an idiot to not have seen it.  I was there and I saw,” he said.
The witness described how the priest, Joseph Boneza, a Tutsi, came to Cyangugu, was taken out of his vehicle by militiamen armed with clubs, beat him on the head and buried him in a deep grave.  “Father Boneza was still breathing when he was buried,” the witness stressed who named the authors of the crime. Father Boneza’s killers first took his money, the witness added.
The prosecutor alleges that “at an unknown date in May 1994, Simeon Nshamihigo went to a roadblock in Kamembe and ordered or encouraged Interahamwe militiamen who were there to kill a Tutsi priest from the Catholic parish of Mibirizi, Father Joseph Boneza, who had to pass through this roadblock in his vehicle.”
The indictment stipulates that, “Simeon Nshamihigo gave the same instructions at all the roadblocks that he supervised and threatened to kill Interahamwe militiamen who allowed the Tutsi priest to pass.”
The document adds that “later in the day, Interahamwe militiamen killed Father Joseph Boneza on a roadblock erected at the entrance of Kamembe, not far from the accused’s residence, directed by the Interahamwe Habirora and Patrick Nsengumuremyi.”
The witness peremptorily declared, “There were many members of the population among the people that I saw at these places.  Nshamihigo was not there.”
He added that the subject of Father Boneza’s murder had been brought up in the semi-traditional Gacaca court, in his province and that no-one had incriminated Nshamihigo.
“Among the people responsible for Boneza’s murder, I never heard anyone evoke Nshamihigo name,” he said.
The witness also exculpated Nshamihigo in relation to other assassinations alleged in the indictment each time designating the planners of the crime as well as the Gacaca court in charge of the case.
In his preliminary brief on Monday, Nshamihigo’s chief counsel, Mr. Denis Turcotte (Canada) accused the prosecutor of “desperately reaching” to convict Nshamihigo for the murder of known figures in Kamembe such as Father Boneza and others.  “We have succeeded in finding direct witnesses at these events.  These people will say that they were present during the commission of these crimes (…) They will say that Simeon Nshamihigo did not participate in these crimes,” Mr. Turcotte said.  The Canadian lawyer alleged “the weakness of the prosecution’s case” and concluded the “fragility of the basis for the case itself.”
Nsamihigo’s trial started on September 25, 2006.  The Prosecutor has called 24 witnesses.  Nshamihigo was arrested in Tanzania on May 19, 2001.  He has pleaded not-guilty.
© Hirondelle News Agency