Arusha, 3 September 2007 (FH) - A witness denied Monday the presence of the former magistrate Siméon Nshamihigo at the time of a massacre in a church of which he is accused before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).

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Substitute of the prosecutor in Cyangugu, in south-western Rwanda, in 1994, Nshamihigo, 47, has been indicted for massacres of Tutsis on several sites in this area, notably in the church of Nyamasheke.

The witness declared that he was in Nyamasheke at the time of the attack, 15 April 1994, and that he had not seen Nshamihigo there.

"No, I did not see him there", affirmed this witness who testified under the cover of anonymity for safety reasons. He answered the questions of the defendant main counsel, Denis Turcotte (Canada).

The prosecutor alleges that in collaboration with certain local dignitaries, Nshamihigo would have ordered the militiamen affiliated to the governing party, Interahamwe, to kill Tutsis who had taken refuge in the church of Nyamasheke. Nshamihigo would have personally directed the attacks.

The witness stated that the attack on Nyamasheke had been planned by a certain Pima, an outsider of the area. According to him, Pima initially gathered the attackers near the church, organized and directed them at the time of the attack which lasted approximately two hours. The attackers were armed with spears and of machetes and also had rifles and grenades, the witness said.

"There were people who fired through the windows of the church. There were some who were breaking down the doors until the refugees left. When they left the church, they were killed ", indicated the witness.

The strategy of Nshamihigo is to call eyewitnesses of the massacres to prove that he did not take part in it.

Nshamihigo was arrested in May 2001 as he was a defence investigator in another case which was on hand before the ICTR.

His own trial began on 25 September 2006. The prosecutor rested his case on 29 January 2007 after having called twenty four witnesses.

Nshamihigo has been calling defence witnesses since 23 April. He should rest his case on 21 September after having called to the stand around forty witnesses.

He is judged by a chamber presided by Dennis Byron, a judge originating from Saint-Kitts and Nevis, and, also, president of the ICTR.

Judge Byron is assisted by Burkinabean Judge Gberdao Gustave Kam and a Czech colleague Robert Fremr.

Judge Kam, who missed all of last week for health reasons, rejoined his peers Monday.

© Hirondelle News Agency