Arusha, 8 August 2007 (FH) - A Rwandan appeared Tuesday before a court in the north of the country accused of having influenced a witness called before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), reported the daily newspaper The News Times.

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Elias Kanyarutaro, 42, appeared before a court in Musanze. The prosecution alleges that he tried to influence a witness by paying him a sum of 20, 000 Rwandan francs (approximately 40 US dollars).

The witness allegedly has testified in the trial of the former leaders of the former ruling party, the Mouvement Républicain National pour la Démocratie et le Développement (MRND), which began in September 2005 at the ICTR.

The suspect would have acted on behalf of the former secretary general of the party, Joseph Nzirorera, one of the three defendants in this trial. He has pleaded not guilty.

The prosecutor stated that "it's not a crime to testify for or against some one, as long as it comes from one's conscience based on the facts, but it becomes wrong when one is being influenced to do so"

Kanyarutaro states that he was "hunted" simply because he was a friend of Nzirorera.

The verdict will be rendered on 31 August. The suspect faces a ten year prison sentence.

Nzirorera is accused with Mathieu Ngirumpatse and Edouard Karemera, respectively president and vice-president of the MRND in 1994. Indicted for genocide and crimes against humanity, all the three have pleaded not guilty.

It is the second time in a little more than a month and half that Rwandan courts deal with allegations of this kind.

In mid-June, a defence investigator in the ongoing ICTR trial of Father Emmanuel Rukundo, Léonidas Nshogoza, was arrested. He was suspected of having pressured a witness for the prosecution so that he reconsidered his testimony. He is still in preventative custody.

In addition, a witness accused of contempt at the ICTR was recently arrested in Rwanda and was transferred to Arusha to be tried. He is awaiting to appear before a judge.

The protected witness GAA had initially testified for the prosecution, then for the defence, in the trial of the former Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research Jean de Dieu Kamuhanda convicted to life in prison on 19 September 2005 by the appeals chamber.

GAA had indicated that he had been induced into error by another prosecution witness to explain his about face.

The appeals chamber ordered an investigation which led to his indictment and arrest.

The maximum sentence faced in the event of a guilty verdict is five years in prison and/or a fine of 10 000 US dollars.

© Hirondelle News Agency