Arusha, 10 March 2008 (FH) - The Appeals Court will on Wednesday deliver judgment on Athanase Seromba, first Catholic Priest to be prosecuted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), which is trying key suspects of 1994 genocide, reports Hirondelle Agency.

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Both, the priest and the prosecution, have appealed against the lower court's judgement delivered on 13 December, 2006. The accused was handed down a 15-years jail.

The prosecution has stressed for a life imprisonment, according to the ICTR Prosecutor's spokesman, Dr Tim Gallimore.

The lead counsel for the accused, Patrice Monthe, has asked the court to dismiss charges and set Father Seromba free. He has also argued that the prosecution has not advanced sufficient evidence to prove their case.

Vicar of the parish of Nyange, in the north-west of the country, during he 1994 genocide, Seromba was sentenced for his role in the massacre of almost 1, 500 people who had taken refuge in his church.

Seromba had conceded to the decision of the local administrative authorities to destroy the church by using a bulldozer which had sheltered ethnic Tutsis on 16 April, 1994. The refugees were trapped inside and died.

However, Seromba claimed his innocence, saying that he was simply a priest who could not have stopped the killings.

Father Seromba fled Rwanda in 1994 and had been living since 1997 in Italy. But under pressure from ICTR then prosecutor Carla del Ponte, the Vatican was forced to release him.

The priest in 2002 traveled to Tanzania and surrendered himself to the ICTR. A statement from the Italian Diocese of Florence said he wanted to shed light on the accusations against him and to prove his innocence.

© Hirondelle News Agency