Arusha, 25 August 2008 (FH) - The trial of a former high ranking official of than Rwandan ministry of defence, Lieutenant-Colonel Ephrem Setako, accused of genocide, opened Monday before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), reports Hirondelle Agency.

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A graduate of the faculty of law of the National University of Rwanda (UNR), the officer who has pleaded not guilty, was the Director of Legal Affairs at the defence ministry during the 1994 genocide, which according to UN estimates claimed lives of about 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

Born in May 1949, in the commune of Nkuli, in the province of Ruhengeri, northern Rwanda, Setako, was considered as a privileged individual because he originated from the same region as the late President Juvenal Habyarimana. The accused faces six counts including genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

"The defendant took an active part in the genocide... He was one of the main planners and executors of the genocide in his native region of Ruhengeri and in Kigali'', the trial attorney Ifeoma Ojemini-Okali claimed in her opening statement.

"He publicly and directly demonstrated his hatred of Tutsis at meetings held before and in 1994", added the Nigerian representative of the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP), stressing that Setako was an influential and respected man within the army and the community.

According to Mrs Okali, the accused took part in the training of the notorious Interahamwe militiamen, distributed weapons to them and ordered to kill Tutsis in several communes of his prefecture and in the capital.

She said that the prosecution would call to the stand 25 witnesses, among whom would be the victims but also accomplices of the defendant, who, according to her, acted within the framework of a joint enterprise, implicating, inter alia, several civil and military high ranking officials.

The lead defence counsel, American Lennox Hinds, pointed out to the Chamber that his client was never accused in Kigali or in Ruhengeri during trials before the Rwandan semi-traditional courts charged with trying the majority of the alleged leaders of the genocide.

After a short debate on exceptions raised by the defence, the Chamber began the testimony of the first prosecution witness, a man designated by the pseudonym" SAA" to preserve his anonymity.

Setako was arrested in February 2004 in a center for asylum seekers in the Netherlands.

His trial is the second to begin this year after that, in May, of the former Cabinet Director of Ministry of Interior, Callixte Kalimanzira.

Seven accused still wait to appear before the UN tribunal. A transfer procedure was also underway for an accused held in Germany. Thirteen other accused are at large.

Since the beginning of its hearings in 1997, the ICTR has delivered 30 convictions and 5 acquittals.


© Hirondelle News Agency