Arusha, 28 August 2007 (FH) - The former magistrate Siméon Nshamihigo was not present at the time of the assassination of a Tutsi priest in 1994 contrarily to what the prosecution alleges, affirmed Tuesday a defence witness before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).   

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Substitute for the prosecutor in Cyangugu (southwestern Rwanda) in 1994, Nshamihigo, 47, is accused of genocide and crimes against the humanity committed in this area between April and July of that year. He has pled not guilty.
The prosecutor alleges that Nshamihigo ordered, planned or facilitated the death of Joseph Boneza, a Tutsi priest, who tried to cross a roadblock located near his residence.
On Tuesday, the protected witness known as HDN stated that Nshamihigo was not in any way responsible for the death of the priest.
A resident of Cyangugu at the time of the crime, HDN indicated to have afterwards collected information in connection with the murder of Joseph Bonesha and that nobody had mentioned Nshamihigo.
"Nobody told me that Nshamihigo was part of the group that attacked Bonesha", the witness said.
HDN indicated that the priest had been killed at the entry of the town of Cyangugu, on the orders of a militia leader named Tourné.
"No information was given to me about the presence of Nshamihigo at this place and at that time", explained HDN, who expressed himself in his mother tongue of Kinyarwanda.
Witness HDN is the 17th since the beginning of Nshamihigo's defence on 23 April.
On 24 April, a witness who personally attended the murder of the priest had also come to clear the former magistrate.
"There were many members of the population among the people that I saw at that location. Nshamihigo was not there ", he had said.

He added that the murder of Joseph Boneza had been brought up in the semi-traditional court, Gacaca, of his area and that nobody had accused Nshamihigo.
"Among the persons responsible for the murder of Boneza, I did not hear anybody mention the name of Nshamihigo", he testified.
Nshamihigo is defended by two Canadian lawyers, Denis Turcotte and Henri Benoît.
In presenting the defence case, Turcotte had stated that "the prosecutor hopelessly tries to convict Siméon Nshamihigo for the death of known personalities" in his area such as priest Bonesha.
"We have succeeded in finding eyewitnesses of the events. These people will come to say that they were present at the time that these crimes were committed. They will give a description to the best of their knowledge and of their memory. They will say that Siméon Nshamihigo did not take part in these crimes", Turcotte had stated.
Nshamihigo has until 21 September to call the score of the defence's remaining witnesses.
Arrested in Tanzania in 2001, Nshamihigo has been on trial since 25 September 2006. The prosecutor rested his case on 29 January 2007 after having called 24 witnesses. The prosecution is headed by the Ivorian lawyer Alphonse Van.

© Hirondelle News Agency