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Arusha, 17 May 2007 (FH) - François Cantier, the lead counsel of the ex-prefect of Kigali, Colonel Tharcisse Renzaho, on trial before International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), accused, on Thursday, the Rwandan authorities of intimidating witnesses who had agreed to testify in favour of the officer.

The French lawyer, in presenting defense arguments, deplored the defection of several witnesses, one which he qualified as "' essential", of a second who "refused any contact with us whereas he had, at the time of a preceding mission, ensured us of his availability and his enthusiasm to come and testify for Renzaho", and of a third which "has just fled his country due to threats which were made to him".

"The defense, under these conditions, is denied access to essential evidence and the Court (denied the access) of the truth" says Cantier, who, at the opening of the trial last January, had already informed the Tribunal of the difficulties that he met on this subject. "Today nobody can be unaware of this situation" said the lawyer president-founder of Lawyers Without Borders - France. "A perfect justice is possible in the United States or in Canada but in Rwanda which became completely opaque, it is not possible" he added. The Chamber decided, by the Presiding Judge Erik Mose, that "the Court will require that an investigation be diligent".

Renzaho is notably accused of having helped and encouraged the massacres of Tutsis in two buildings belonging to the Catholic Church in the city: the Center for the Teaching of African Languages (CTAL) and the church of the Holy Family. According to the charge, Renzaho would have benefited, in the massacres of the Holy Family, of the assistance of a priest, the abbot Wenceslas Munyeshyaka condemned by contumacy last November by a Rwandan court and who lives in France where he is the subject of legal proceedings. "Renzaho disputes to have had any particular relations" with the man of the church, pled Cantier.

The defense lawyer, moreover, promised to prove that the defendant did not distribute weapons to the killers, no more than he had any authority over officers, soldiers and the Interahamwe militiamen. According to him, the situation escaped the control Renzaho who had at his disposal only one "municipal police force which was summarized by a handful of men". The defense intends to present to the court about thirty witnesses and two experts, of which the Canadian criminologist Kent Roach will be used "to establish the extreme danger to justice the use of witnesses, informers or convicts, implies", announced to Cantier.

Some of the witnesses asked to testify by the Prosecution at the ICTR, and notably in the Renzaho case, "are convicted" in Rwanda for their role in the genocide. In addition to Mose, the Chamber is comprised of Judges Jai Ram Reddy (Fiji) and Florence Rita Arrey (Cameroon).

© Hirondelle News Agency