Arusha, May 12, 2008 (FH) - Bongwa Leoncie, wife of the genocide acquitted Andre Ntagerura, Monday testified in defense of Prosper Mugiraneza, former Rwandan minister for Civil Service, who is accused of 1994 genocide and crimes against humanity alongside three other former ministers before the Arusha-based International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), reports Hirondelle Agency.

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The other two co-accused are: former Minister for Health, Casimir Bizimungu; ex-minister for Commerce, Justin Mugenzi; and former Foreign Minister, Jerome Bicamumpaka. All four of them have pleaded not guilty.

Ntagerura, who was former Minister for Transport and Communications in the interim government during the genocide, was released on February 25, 2004 and his acquittal was upheld by the Appeals Chamber on February 8, 2006.

Led by Mugiraneza's lead defense Counsel, Tom Moran from the United States, Mrs Ntagerura said she was well acquainted with Mgiraneza and his family and lived together in exile.

"His [Mugiraneza's] son Robert and my child are age mates. In fact, all his three sons were friends to our children," explained Mrs Ntagerura, when she was asked to comment over the family tie between the two families.

The witness also recalled how they fled Rwanda as massacres "spread like bush fire." She mentioned other people who fled the April-July 1994 violence, included Bizimungu and Mugenzi.

According to the witness their group, alongside other refugees, first sought shelter at the Kimihurura Presidential Guard Camp and then to the French Embassy in Kigali. They were later airlifted by a French military aircraft to Bujumbura, Burundi.

The flight, according to her, took them to several other destinations, but finally found themselves landing in Kinshasa [former Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo].

As Mrs Ntagerura was testifying, her husband set at the public gallery patiently listening to the case until she concluded. Neither the defense counsels nor the prosecution cross examined the witness.

Mr Ntagerura has yet to get a host country following his acquittal.

The case, which is before Trial Chamber III is presided by Judge Khalida Khan of Pakistan, continues Tuesday. The other bench judges are: Lee Muthoga (Kenya) and Francis Short (Ghana).

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