Arusha, 3rd June 2007 (FH) - The trial of four high ranking officers of the former Rwandan army, that has been in progress for five years, started deliberations on Friday at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (TPIR).

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Commonly called Military I, this important trial began on 2 April 2002. 242 witnesses, from all the corners of the world, have testified in 408 days of proceedings, stated the presiding judge, Erik Mose (Norway). More than 5 000 exhibits were presented into evidence.

This week was devoted to the closing arguments.

The Prosecutor is requesting a conviction for the four accused, stating that they are "enemies of the human race".

The defence, which on the other hand is asking for an acquittal, indicated that these were allegations without merit.

The date that the judgment will be rendered will be announced at a later time.

The defendants are the former chief of staff of the Ministry of Defence, Colonel Théoneste Bagosora, the head for operations at the Chief of Defence Staff of the Army, Brigadier-General Gratien Kabiligi, the former commander of the military sector of Gisenyi (western Rwanda), Lieutenant-Colonel Anatole Nsengiyumva as well as the former commander of the paracommando battalion, Major Aloys Ntabakuze.

Bagosora and Nsengiyumva spoke at the end of the proceedings to kneel themselves before the memory of the victims and to affirm their innocence.

"I was and I remain a victim of pitiful propaganda from the RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front, former rebel group that is currently in power), declared Bagosora, the man the prosecution alleges to be "the mastermind" of the genocide.

"I believe that you are able to rehabilitate me into society", he stated to his judges.

Nsengiyumva also alluded that he had been the object "of a large conspiracy".

"Those who were in Gisenyi know how much I fought to help others bring back peace", he declared.

He added that he had been "striking" by some "ridiculous stories" told by some of the witnesses unknown to him. "All the people of Gisenyi know that I am innocent", he underlined.

A second trial for high ranking officers, Military II, is also ongoing at the ICTR. Two Generals are among the four accused. They are Augustin Bizimungu and Augustin Ndindiliyimana, who, in 1994, were, respectively chiefs of staff of the army and of the gendarmerie.

In progress since September 2004, this case, just as the one known as "Government II", opened in November 2003, continued this week. The two trials are hearing witnesses for the defence.

In Military II, it is the first of the four accused, General Bizimungu, who is calling witnesses.

Bizimungu and Ndindiliyimana are being tried with two former heads of the recognition battalion of the former Rwandan army: Major François-Xavier Nzuwonemeye, who was the commander, and his assistant, Captain Innocent Sagahutu.

In "Government II", which also has four accused, it is the second defendant who is calling witnesses.

This case is against the former Ministers of Health, Casimir Bizimungu, Trade, Justin Mugenzi, Foreign Affairs, Jérome Bicamumpaka, and Public Works, Prosper Mugiraneza.

Apart from the trials, two events deserve to be announced: the presentation to the UN Security Council, by a lawyer at the ICTR, of a file accusing the former Rwandan rebels, and the reinstatement to his functions of the former spokesperson of the Tribunal, Roland Amoussouga.

Professor Peter Erlinder, an American who presides the Association of Defence Lawyers at ICTR (ADAD), is requesting that the former Rwandan rebels, currently in government in Kigali, be tried in connection, notably, with the attack on 6 April 1994 of the plane of President Juvénal Habyarimana, which sparked the genocide.

Peter Erlinder is asking, moreover, to prevent any transfer of cases towards Rwanda envisioned for the end of the ICTR mandate on December 31, 2008.

Roland Amoussouga, a Togolese lawyer, as for him, had been relieved of his functions as spokesperson of the ICTR in September 2005; accused of having supported the appointment of a French lawyer to the office of ICTR lawyers.

He had rejected these allegations and requested that the United Nations reinstate him

© Hirondelle News Agency