Arusha, 12 March 2008 (FH) -The Appeals Court of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) Wednesday sentenced the former Roman Catholic Priest Athanase Seromba to an imprisonment for remainder of his life for his role in the 1994 genocide, quashing  the 15 years sentence which was handed down to him two years ago.

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The presiding judge Mohamed Shahabudden said that the chamber was satisfied that the priest committed genocide as well as extermination as crimes against humanity for his role in the destruction of the church in
Nyange, north-west of Rwanda, where about 1,500 Tutsis had sought refuge.

"The Appeals Chamber stresses that Seromba knew that approximately 1,500 Tutsis were in the church and were bound to die or cause severe injuries as a consequence of his approval to order destruction of the church‘', the judge stated. Seromba had ordered bulldozer to bring down the church, starting from the fragile side of the parish.

The judge said the chamber was convinced that Seromba with his full knowledge and position led the killings of the refugees in the church.

Seromba had conceded to the decision of the local administrative authorities to destroy the church by using a bulldozer on 16 April, 1994.

The judge has ordered the Registrar the convict to remain in the UN detention facility, pending transfer to a host country to serve his jail.

The lead counsel, Patrice Monthe, told Hirondelle immediately after the judgement was pronounced that the judges did not take into consideration his submissions. :"It's bad news."

The Acting Prosecutor, Bongani Majola said: "Justice has been done. He deserves what he got."

Seromba is the first Catholic Priest to be prosecuted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), which is trying key suspects of 1994 genocide.

Both, the priest and the prosecution, had appealed against the lower court's judgement delivered on 13 December, 2006. .

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

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.

© Hirondelle News Agency