Arusha, 16 July, 2008 (FH) - The former personal body-guard of the late Rwandan Prime Minister, Agathe Uwingiliyimana, claimed before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) Wednesday that members of the presidential guards forcefully disarmed their special unit at the premier's residence on April 7, 1994 shortly before she was killed.

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Corporal Sylvestre Ntivuguruzwa was testifying in the defence of the former Commander of Reconnaissance Battalion, Major Francois-Xavier Nzuwonemeye, who is facing charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes alongside three other former senior Rwandan army officers at the UN court.

"We thought that the genderme guards were coming to reinforce security at the Prime Minister's residence but instead they ordered us to disarm,'' said the witness in his examination-in-chief by the accused's lead counsel, Charles Taku from Cameroon.

Among those who were disarmed at gun-point were 15 members of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Rwanda (UNAMIR), including ten Belgians and five Ghanaian soldiers.

Recalling the distressing event, Ntivuguruzwa said it was early April 7, 1994 at around 5 am when the presidential guard squad stormed their post on foot, some of them putting on red barrettes usually worn only by gendarmes, disarmed and arrested them.

Asked by counsel Taku as how did he know that those soldiers were from the presidential guard, Ntiyuguruzwa responded:" I recognised Corporal Bicamumpaka who was our instructor when I was undergoing close protection training for VIP (leaders) at the Presidential Guard Camp."

Shortly after disarming all the troops at the Premier's residence, a military mini-bus arrived and Belgian and Ghanaian UNAMIR soldiers were ordered to board it and left for an unknown destination, whereas as the witness and other gendarmes were still under arrest. "I thought we were going to be killed but God was great," he narrated.

However, according to the witness, they took advantage to escape when their assailants were busy hunting for the Premier to seek refuge at the Kacyiru.

"It was a matter of life and death, I could not have acted otherwise as I and others were disarmed," the witness told Christopher Black, lead defence counsel for the former Chief of Staff of Gendarmerie National, Augustin Ndindiliyimana, another accused in the trial during cross examination.

Earlier, the witness told the court that his post commander informed them that members of presidential guards had started killing opposition politicians.

The witness was expected to be cross- examined by the prosecution.

Other defendants in this case are former Chiefs of Staff of the Rwandan Army, Generals Augustin Bizimungu and the Deputy Commander of the Reconnaissance Battalion, Captain Innocent Sagahutu. All have pleaded not guilty to genocide. Their trial began in September 2004.


© Hirondelle News Agency