Prosecuted for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, General Bizimungu has been on trial since September 2005 with three other officers. He has pleaded not guilty. Since last week, he has been testifying on his own behalf. After having finished Tuesday afternoon the questioning by his defence counsel, he will be counter-examined by the other defence teams; which will then pass the relay to the prosecutor. His testimony is schedule to be completed Friday.
Very precise and particularly clear in his explanations, General Bizimungu stated that as soon as he was named as chief of staff in mid-April 1994, he had invited the population "to bury the hatchet". "Enough is enough", quoted Bizimungu by evoking an extract of his broadcasted message on 22 April 1994.
He added that the day before, he had requested that two senior government officials, who had retreated to the center of country, intervene to political party officials so that they, in turn, ordered their members who were committing massacres to stop.
"When I had the occasion to speak with the Prime Minister or with the Minister of Defence, I spoke of peace", he continued.
General Bizimungu put into evidence a statement by Prime Minister Jean Kambanda to support his theory. "I received the repeated complaints of the chief of staff of the army and his assistant (General Gratien Kabiligi, on trial in another case) asking me to intervene with the political parties in general and with the MRND (presidential party) in order to put an end to the massacres in Kigali and in all the country", indicates Jean Kambanda, who was sentenced to life in prison by the ICTR in 1998.
"I did not cease repeating it in spite of the difficult conditions under which we were, it was a constant for me", explained General Bizimungu. "By making these gestures... I did not know that I would go before a tribunal, I made them because I was convinced of it", he added.
General Bizimungu also answered allegations according to which he would have deliberately refused to punish soldiers who had committed massacres, affirming that the situation which prevailed did not allow him to have access to information. "As of 19 April, the tactical situation that we had, the means of communication that were being lost, the personnel of the defence staff which was being reduced to a minimum" resulted in the chief of staff not having information, Bizimungu said.
He, however, stated that he had proposed to the ministry of defence the replacement of certain sector commanders. "All that was with the aim of asking for a stabilization of the command that could establish a disciplinary control on the troops but the situation did not allow for it", he testified.
General Bizimungu assured that he had acted according to the bits of information which he had obtained. He added that the capacities of the chief of staff of the army in 1994 were limited. He said that he was not the chief of the armies (military and gendarmes) before the reform of 1992 but somebody who depended on the Minister of Defence and who only had under his command a few officers.
Bizimungu is on trial with General Augustin Ndindiliyimana, former chief of staff of the gendarmerie, Major François-Xavier Nzuwonemeye and Captain Innocent Sagahutu, who commanded the recognition battalion, an elite unit of the former Rwandan army.
© Hirondelle News Agency