Arusha, 14 May 2008 (FH) - The spokesman of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR),Roland Amoussouga, said Wednesday that the possible motive for the sudden disappearance of a protected witness from a safe house about a week ago might be linked to finance.

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He said that the witness known only by code "GFA" wanted the tribunal to advance him $400, which he said, "was not possible. It is not the policy of the tribunal," he told a press conference.

The witness who was to re-testify before the Arusha-based ICTR to confess to false testimony, suddenly disappeared last Tuesday just some few hours before his appearance .

However, before disappearing, GFA left a note saying that he would return back only if the money was remitted to his family in Rwanda.

Amoussouga said a preliminary report is being carefully studied over the incident, which is the first for the UN tribunal set up in November 1994 to try key suspects of the Rwandan genocide.

The Tanzanian police with help of the UN security are pursuing the witness, but without any success so far, confirmed the Arusha Regional Police Commander, Mr Basilio Matei.

We have confidence in the Tanzanian security services .We are hopeful we'll locate the person," Amoussouga told reporters. The travel documents are in the hands of the tribunal.

The witness disappeared mysteriously from the house, which had been under the guard of Tanzanian police supervised by tribunal officers.

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 last Tuesday.

The disappearance has 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