Arusha, 10 September, 2008(FH)- A Roman Catholic Priest in Muganza Parish, Southern Rwanda, admitted before a UN Court that at the peak of the 1994 killings in Rwanda he told fleeing ethnic Tutsi rufugees to vacate his church and seek shelter elsewhere.

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"Yes, I advised them to leave the church as they came [to church] in a manner which does not conform with Christian habits [values],'' Italian Priest Tiziano Pegoraro, responded in a cross-examination by Trial Attorney, Althea Alexis of Trinadad and Tobago, who wanted to know how did he help to shelter the fleeing Tutsis from attackers at the Parish, located in Butare prefecture.

There were approximately between 200 and 300 refugees inside the Church.

The Priest was testifying in the defence of Elie Ndayambaje, former Mayor of Muganza Commune, who is jointly accused of genocide and crimes against humanity in the largest and longest trial before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) referred as "Butare Trial".

The Priest further disclosed to the three-bench judges that he had urged the fleeing refugees to disarm themselves of their machetes and other weapons. Those who obeyed, he said, dropped their weapons by the priest's house, which was located within the Parish's compound.

"For those who were in the church I held prayers for them," added the 20th defence witness.

"I told them [refugees] to seek other places for shelter where there was better security like nearby schools'', he said, underscoring that the church was defenseless location to shield them.

Because of the insecurity in the area, the Priest claimed that he alerted the Muganza commune authorities, and actually he personally went to the communal office on the morning of 20 April, 1994. "There was no intervention from the authorities,'' he said.

According to Priest Pegoraro when he was away at the Muganza communal office, the church was raided, one person was found stoned to death and windows smashed. Eye-witnesses said attackers carried machetes but could not give their approximate number, said the priest.

On Monday, the priest defended Ndayambaje, 50, whom he claimed was a trusted personality in Muganza commune.

He told the judges William Sekule of Tanzania (presiding), Arlette Ramaroson (Madagascar)and Solomy Bossa (Uganda), that the accused was pro-active in bringing development in education and water sectors, among others, with view to improving welfare of his people.

"I did collaborate with Ndayambaje in sectors such as schools for social advancement,'' stressed the Priest when led by Ndayambaje's lead counsel Canadian Pierre Boule.

The priest, who worked in Rwanda for nearly 11 years, and most of his time he spent in Muganza, noted that some of the communes envied achievements of the accused. "Ethnic groups [Tutsis and Hutus] co-habitated...during his era social climate was excellent,'' he claimed.

In 1992, Priest Pegoraro said Ndayambaje ceased his mayorship to enroll at the Butare University to study economics. However, Ndayambaje was re-elected to the post in June, 1994, just a month after the sporadic killings started in Rwanda following the shooting down of the plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana by unknown assailants.

The Italian Priest completed his testimony Wednesday. A protected witness "KP" started his testimony later.

Ndayambaje is the sixth and the final defendant in the "Butare Trial". The trial started in June 2001.All six accused have pleaded not guilty to genocide and crimes against humanity during 1994 killings, which according to UN claimed lives of more than 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus.


© Hirondelle News Agency