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Arusha, 18 May, 2007 (FH) - Tharcisse Renzaho, prefect of Kigali in 1994, began his defense this week in at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).

Accused of genocide and crimes against humanity, Renzaho, 63 years, pleaded not guilty. The defendant was a colonel in the former Rwandan army.

In his preliminary statement on Thursday, the lawyer of Renzaho, François Cantier (France), declared that he will show the brittleness of the prosecution's theory, notably with regard to the premeditation of genocide.

He also refuted the defendant's membership to "an extremist clan" as well as allegations on "the assistance than he could have brought in his function of prefect, as well as on a purely personal basis, to the Interahamwe [militiamen] before the events".

The former prefect denies having ordered the erection of roadblocks with the aim of intercepting, identifying and killing Tutsis. The defendant, furthermore, disputes the allegation that he distributed weapons and ammunition to the killers.

Renzaho is also being tried for having allegedly ordered the deaths of approximately 120 Tutsis in the capital; as well as the assassination of Andre Kameya, a renowned journalist close to the opposition. He states that these facts are by no means ascribable to him.

The defendant, in addition, rejects any responsibility in the rapes committed against the Tutsi women in 1994.

The defense of Renzaho, which foresees about thirty witnesses, intends to prove that the situation in Kigali was "unverifiable" because of the war.

Cantier stated that there were thousands of refugees and displaced people in Kigali "which had lost everything and who were shouting for revenge". He, moreover, suggested that "the presence of infiltrated FPR [rebels] contributed to the disorder"

The lawyer also raised that "the state apparatus and his authority had totally collapse, with respect to the population, and that the administration was dislocated, in particular on the PVK [Kigali Prefecture] level"

Renzaho "will establish that in this situation, he had only meager means since the only force that was at his disposal, the municipal police force, was summarized, after April 6 1994, as a handful of men", stated his lawyer.

Renzaho "will prove that with the limited resources that remained to him, he continued to assist the population without discrimination", continued his defender.

"The witnesses will come state that Mr. Renzaho tried to put an end to the abuses of several killers whose identities had been brought to his attention by arresting them and holding then in the jail of the PVK", he indicated.

Cantier, in addition, declared that "the criminal agreement" reproached to his client "is only a construction of the spirit".

The prosecutor alleges that Renzaho plotted, notably, with Father Wenceslas Munyeshyaka who is the subject of legal proceedings in France.

"The defense will produce a testimony and documents which make it possible to be convinced of the feeble character of the charges against this priest", ensured the lawyer.

"Better still Mr. Renzaho will establish that it was on instruction from the power currently in place in Kigali that a case file was assembled from nothing against this priest", added to Cantier.

Renzaho's lawyer finally accused Kigali of intimidating defense witnesses. The court promised a diligente investigation on this issue.

Renzaho was arrested in the Democratic Republic of Congo in September 2002. His trial started on 8 January at the ICTR. The prosecutor has produced 25 witnesses.

The Tribunal has, in addition, carried out during the week hearings in three other cases, all at the defense witness stage. It is the Butare, Militaires II and Government II cases.

In the Butare trial, an area in southern Rwanda, it is the fourth of the six co-defendants who his presenting their defense.

The former prefect Alphonse Ntezilyayo, a former officer, started to testify for his own defense.

Ntezilyayo presented himself as an officer who had many enemies within the military hierarchy "I was regarded as a subversive element to be permanently supervised", he stated.

Ntezilyayo was named prefect of Butare on June 21 1994. He has not yet commented on the circumstances of his nomination.

In Government II, it is an expert in political speech analysis, the Rwandan linguist Eugene Shimamungu, who testified. The deposition of Shimamungu aims at clearing the defendants, four former ministers for the temporary government, of the charges of inciting genocide.

The prosecutor alleges that the members of the temporary government, in place during the genocide, used a coded language to promote the massacres.

The main argument of the expert is that the political speech was rather constant: to ensure peace and the safety of the people and goods, to continue peace talks with the rebellion and to stop the famine which prevailed in the country.

Shimamungu was quoted by the defense of the ex-Minister of Health Casimir Bizimungu. He is on trial with his former colleagues of Trade, Justin Mugenzi, of Public Service, Prosper Mugiraneza, and of Foreign Affairs, Jerome Bicamumpaka.

In the trial, Militaires II, against four officers, the former Chief of Defense Staff of the Army, General Augustin Bizimungu, continued his defense. His co-defendants will introduce witnesses for the defense after him. General Bizimungu is on trial with the former Chief of Defense Staff of the Gendarmerie, General Augustin Ndindiliyimana, and two persons in charge of the recognition battalion, an elite unit of the former Rwandan army, Major François-Xavier Nzuwonemeye, the Commander, and Captain Innocent Sagahutu, his assistant.

Finally, the Tribunal held this week a short hearing in the trial of the musician Simon Bikindi accused of inciting genocide through his songs. Presentation of arguments should restart at the end of August, the Chamber having deferred by approximately two months the beginning of the presentation of evidence for the defense, initially scheduled for next month. The judges granted to his new primary council, Andreas O' Shea (South Africa) time to familiarize himself with the case and to interview witnesses. O' Shea replaced the Kenyan Wilfred Nderitu who was recently recused from the trial because of a disagreement with the defendant. O' Shea was Co-council in the André Rwamakuba case, a former minister acquitted by the ICTR.

Next week, on Monday morning will be announced the decision in the appeal of Mika Muhimana, former city councilor of Gishyita (western Rwanda) sentenced in April 2005 to perpetuity, notably for several rapes. The following day, Aloys Simba, sentenced to 25 years detention, will also present his arguments in front of the Appeals Chamber. The judges will benefit from their presence in Arusha to hold a plenary session.

At this session, the next president of the ICTR should be elected. Judge Dennys Byron (St Kitts and Newis) is a candidate. Current president Erik Mose (Norway) has carried out two mandates and theoretically cannot present his candidacy; but the judges could decide to modify the rule to allow him a third mandate.

© Hirondelle News Agency