Arusha, 26 February 2008 (FH) - The Chairman of the African Union (AU), President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania, has commended the work accomplished in the past 14 years by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), trying key suspects of the 1994 genocide.

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"The initial phase of the ICTR's work encountered negative publicity but now it has achieved tremendous progress in delivering ground breaking international justice which should not be left out to disappear just like that,'' he told a high-level team of ICTR led by its president Justice Dennis Byron and spokesman, Roland Amoussouga, on Monday in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania's commercial capital.

The ICTR team went to brief the AU Chairman on the exit strategy of the tribunal, which is expected to close down by end of the year for all first instance trials as ordered by the UN Security Council.

"A lot of effort has been put by the International community and other organs to create the tribunal and everything must be done to see how best it could serve to enhance international justice system and expertise gained from the tribunal's creation,'' Mr Kikwete stressed, according to his spokesman, Salva Rweyemamu.

An AU team of experts is expected in Arusha next month to consult on how best ICTR's work could be incorporated in enhancing African judiciary.

According to Mr Rweyemamu, some of the possibilities discussed was to see how the Arusha-based ICTR be turned into a regional centre of excellence on judiciary matters or a continental headquarters of the just established International Criminal Court (ICC).

‘'Another possibility is to turn ICTR into a major hub of UN judicial activities, focusing on African issues,'' he told Hirondelle. ‘' However, much will depend on the AU experts advice,'' he added.

President Kikwete assured the ICTR delegation that the advice would be deliberated at AU's July Summit, which will be preceded by a Council of Ministers meeting. ‘'ICTR has done a wonderful job and Africa should benefit from the work of the Court,'' Mr Kikwete was quoted to have told Justice Byron.

"It was an excellent and frank meeting,'' according to ICTR's spokesman, Amoussouga.

Prior to his audience with the AU Chairman, Judge Byron met with the Friends of ICTR composed of Ambassadors, High Commissioners and other top diplomatic representatives of the United Kingdom, the USA, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Germany, Canada and Norway.

‘'The ICTR President gave them a full picture of the current status of the tribunal's work and discussed matters relating to the progress in the implementation of its completion strategy,''. According to ICTR press
statement Tuesday.

Since its establishment by the UN Security Council in November, 1994, the tribunal has completed 35 cases, resulting in 30 convictions and five acquittals.

Eleven trials are underway for 27 accused persons and ten are awaiting start of their cases.

The July-April killings in Rwanda claimed about 800,000 lives of ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus, according to UN estimates. The violence was sparked by downing of the plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana by unknown assailants, near the capital Kigali. Habyarimana was returning from a regional peace meeting in Dar es Salaam. Also killed in the same plane was Burundi's President, Cyprien Ntayamira.

© Hirondelle News Agency