Arusha, 02 July, 2008 (FH) - A defence witness and former member of staff of the Kigali Central Hospital (ECK) Tuesday denied prosecution allegations implicating ex-soldiers of the Rwandese Reconnaissance Battalion with rape and killings during the 1994 genocide.

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The witness, only known as "UKL" to protect his identity, was testifying for defence of the former Commander of the Reconnaissance Battalion, Major Francois-Xavier Nzuwonemeye, who is on a joint trial for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes alongside three other senior army officers at the Arusha-based International Criminal tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), trying key architects of the April-July slaughter.

According to UN estimates about 800,000 people, mostly ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were butchered to death, although Kigali puts the number to one million.

"Soldiers had so many other activities to carry out that they couldn't have had time to assault the patients," asserted witness UKL in response to the question asked by the accused's co-counsel, Berth Lyons, from the United States.

Earlier, the counsel mentioned some prosecution witnesses who gave evidence before the Tribunal, alleging that among other things, soldiers under the command of Major Nzuwonemeye during April-July, assaulted ECK hospital to identify Tutsi patients in order to kill them because of their ethnicity.

The witness also claimed that he was not aware of a "death list" of Tutsis earmarked for killing, nor did he witness rape cases while on duty.

The eighth defence witness, however, conceded that during the massacres, the hospital staffs were overwhelmed with injured patients, resulting from the violence.

The shooting down of the plane carrying the former Rwandan President, Juvenal Habyarimana, on April 6, 1994 near the capital, Kigali, by unknown assassins triggered the killing spree in the tiny central African state.

The witness was later cross-examined by the prosecution Assistant Trial Attorney, Felistas Mosha, which concluded the testimony.

The trial continued with a new defence witness in a closed session.

Other defendants in the case are former Chiefs of Staff of the Gendarmerie and the Army, Generals Augustin Ndindiliyimana and Augustin Bizimungu respectively, who have already concluded their defence .The forth accused is Major Nzuwonemeye's Deputy Commander, Captain, Innocent Sagahutu, who has not yet started his defence.

Their trial began in September 2004.


© Hirondelle News Agency