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Arusha, April 27, 2007 (FH) - Father Hermisdas Nsengimana re-entered a not-guilty plea for genocide and crimes against humanity Friday at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).
A former rector at the prestigious college of Nyanza (southern Rwanda), Nsengimana, aged 53 years, is the third Catholic priest prosecuted by the ICTR after Father Athanase Seromba and Father Emmanuel Rukundo.
Seromba, a former priest in Nyange (west) where around two thousand Tutsis were killed in 1994 was sentenced to fifteen years in prison.  His trial is in appeal.  The trial of Rukundo, who was a military chaplain, is still ongoing.
Arrested in Cameroon on March 21, 2002, Nsengimana pleaded not-guilty for the first time on April 16 of that year.
The new plea was made necessary after a recent amending of his indictment.
Nsengimana is now being charged under three counts of genocide and crimes against humanity (assassinations and extermination).  The crime of conspiracy to commit genocide which was included in the first incitement was withdrawn and new detail was added to the remaining counts.
The prosecution alleges that Nsengimana was the “spiritual leader” of a group called the Dragons or Death Squads which committed numerous massacres in Nyanza and in his region.
The prosecution accuses Nsengimana of having personally attacked an older Tutsi priest who lived in his college and “stabbed” six women from the suburbs.  He also aided the murder of three other colleagues.
Nengimana is also accused of ordering his employees and students to seek out and kill Tutsis in the neighbourhoods surrounding the college,
Nsengimana is represented by the French lawyer Mr. Emmanuel Altit.  Mr. Altit regretted “the inequality of arms” in favour of the prosecution and asked the Chamber to remedy it.
The French lawyer declared that he would not be ready if the start of the trial was kept at June 4, given that the Registrar had still not approved his work program.  The Registrar, who pays for the salaries of lawyers for indigent detainees, froze the allotments for Mr. Altit and his team “for budgetary reasons,” the lawyer regretted.
The presiding judge, the Tanzanian William Hussein Sekule indicated that the pending questions would be debated during a status conference which will take place in the near-future.
© Hirondelle News Agency