Arusha, 20 May 2008 (FH) - A former Rwandan Mayor, Elie Ndayambaje, began his defence case Tuesday before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) after 13 years in detention, reports Hirondelle Agency.

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Ndayamabaje, 50, former Mayor of the Muganza commune in Butare, southern Rwanda, was arrested on 28 June 1995 in Belgium. He is jointly tried with five other accused officials in the case known as "Butare Trial".

In an opening statement of more than an hour, Ndayambaje's lawyer, Pierre Boule (Canada), expressed concerns over the delay caused by the ICTR to try his client.

"Today 20 May 2008, Elie Ndayambaje begins the presentation of his defence case, more than 4,700 days after his arrest. We are at the 646th day of this trial which began on 11 June 2001, six years after his arrest", deplored Boule.

He said that he would call a maximum of 30 witnesses to prove innocence of his client. According to him, they will come to contradict the prosecution's case which "proved to be of a doubtful quality".

The Canadian lawyer, assisted by a Rwandan colleague, Professor Claver Sindayigaya, explained that "since his arrest (Ndayambaje), we have gone from one century to another".

Ndayambaje's main counsel also regretted the current group (six defendants) which was presented by the prosecutor as a way of accelerating proceedings and on the basis of saving time. The progress of the case proves "the ill founded justifications that were presented", claimed Boule.

Ndayambaje is accused of participating in massacres on Kabuye Hill, where several thousand Tutsis had sought refuge during the 1994 genocide. He has pleaded not guilty. His lawyer announced that he will call witnesses to prove his alibi.

Mayor of Muganza since 1983, Ndayambaje had resigned in 1992 to continue his studies at the university. He was re-nominated Mayor in June 1994 "without being consulted", argued his lawyer. He left Rwanda in the days that followed to take refuge in Belgium, where he was denounced by a "person acting on behalf of the RPF (former rebellion) government", who had begun a smear campaign against him and people who had hosted him, according to Boule.

During his arrest, Ndayambaje was doing a doctorate in economy in Antwerp.

Started in June 2001, Butare Trial is the largest and longest trial involving six defendants, including the only woman, former Minister for Family and Women's Development Pauline Nyiramasuhuko and her son an alleged ex-militia leader Arsene Ntahobali.

The other co-defendants are the former mayor of Ngoma Joseph Kanyabashi , former Governor Sylvain Nsabimana; and Butare Governor, Alphonse Nteziryayo


© Hirondelle News Agency