Arusha, 10 June 2008 (FH) - A former Rwandan Deputy Governor, Dominique Ntawukuriryayo, Tuesday pleaded not guilty to three counts of genocide and crimes against humanity before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda(ICTR), trying key architects of the 1994 killings.

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The suspect was brought to Aretha from France on Thursday evening after his opposition to the transfer hit rock-bottom, reports Hirondelle Agency.

Ntawukuriryayo said "not guilty" to every count read out to him by the presiding judge Khalida Khan from Pakistan. His lawyer is French Francois Roux who has negotiated several guilty pleas with the prosecutor.

The judge has ordered the Registry to fix a date for hearing of the trial.

The ICTR indictment alleges that acts of Ntawukuriryayo led to killings of not less than 25, 000 ethnic Tutsi refugees on Kabuye Hill, Butare Province, Southern Rwanda, between 21 and 25 April 1994.

Ntawukuriryayo twice battled desperately against his transfer to ICTR, lastly being his appeal before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, which also rejected the application mid last month.

On 7 May, the French Final Court of Appeal confirmed a decision of the Court of Appeal of Paris of his transfer to the UN tribunal.

Ntawukuriryayo's defence feared that he will ultimately be transferred to Kigali by the ICTR as part of the tribunal's exit strategy of all first instance trials by December, 2008.

Ntawukuriryayo, 66, was arrested on 16 October 2007 in Carcassonne, south-western France, following an arrest warrant issued by the ICTR on 21 September 2007. He had been living in France since 1999, under a visitor's visa.

On 16 January, the Final Court of Appeal cancelled, due to legal error, a decision by the Court of Appeal of Paris authorizing Ntawukuriryayo's transfer to the ICTR. The case was returned before other magistrates of the Court of

Appeal, who also endorsed the transfer order.

The French authorities agreed to Ntawukuriryayo's transfer only after it got assurance that the suspect would not be tried in Rwanda. In addition, the ICTR Prosecutor, Hassan Jallow, also assured the UN Security Council last week that the accused would be tried by the UN Court.

Ntawukuriryayo is the third accused from France to be transferred to Arusha in the past eight years.

In 2000, France transferred two Rwandans to the ICTR for trials-- Jean de Dieu Kamuhanda, former Minister for Higher Education, who has since been sentenced to life in prison; and Francois Xavier Nzuwonemeye, a former officer, who is currently on trial.

Since the establishment of the tribunal in November 1994, it has convicted 30 persons and acquitted five while 28 others are currently on trial. Eleven trials are on-going, four of which have closed and are awaiting judgments.

The arrival of Ntawukuriryayo brings the number of people still awaiting trial in Arusha to eight.


© Hirondelle News Agency