Arusha, 7 May 2008 (FH) - A protected witness who was to re-testify before the Arusha-based International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) to confess to false testimony, suddenly disappeared on Tuesday just some few hours before his appearance , reports Hirondelle Agency.

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The UN security service was immediately ordered to investigate how witness, known only by code" GFA ", disappeared from a safe house where he had been staying under the guard of Tanzanian police supervised by tribunal officers.

The ICTR spokesman, Roland Amoussouga, said efforts were underway to track down the witness. "ICTR and the host government are making necessary efforts to locate him [witness]".

The Arusha Regional Police Commander, Basilio Mateo, told Hirondelle Agency that he was not aware of the incident, but promised to look into the issue and will respond accordingly.

GFA had testified for the prosecution in several trials currently in progress at the ICTR, including on-going Government II trial, which brings together in a joint case of four former Rwandan ministers accused of genocide and crimes against humanity in 1994.

The four ministers are: Casimir Bizimungu (Health), Prosper Mugiraneza (Civil Service), Justin Mugenzi (Commerce) and Jerome Bicamumpaka (Foreign Affairs). All have pleaded not guilty.

Recently , GFA contacted Bicamumpaka's defence team and admitted that he had lied in his statement so as to get released from prison in Rwanda, where he was facing 1994 genocide charges The Chamber had authorized the defence team to meet GFA in the presence of a member of the prosecution team. This meeting took place in Kampala, Uganda.

On his arrival in Arusha for his re-testimony, GFA was warned by the Chamber of the legal risks he faces of false testimony. He had then asked to postpone his testimony and requested a new meeting with his lawyers.

The meeting took place and his testimony was scheduled for Tuesday.

The disappearance created agitation within the tribunal, where the charges of false testimony have lately multiplied.

The ‘safe houses' are ordinary villas throughout Arusha and often surrounded by high walls, aimed at protecting the identity of the witness and any possible external influence in the course of the trial. The GFA's disappearance has brought into focus the ability of the tribunal's witness protection unit, according to some ICTR officials, who sought for anonymity.

Since its establishment by the UN Security Council, almost 2000 witnesses have testified since its first hearing in January 1997.

The tribunal has tried 35 people while 28 others are currently on trial. Eleven trials are on-going of which four have closed and are awaiting judgments.

The UN Security Council has directed the tribunal to finish its first instance trials by 31 December 2008.

Six people, detained in Arusha, are still waiting to be tried. Three others are detained in Europe and 13 are still at large.

The UN has estimated that about 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in the April-July slaughter


© Hirondelle News Agency