Arusha, 10 October, 2008 (FH) -A former Rwandan cabinet minister, Augustin Ngirabatware,50, Friday pleaded not guilty to ten counts of genocide and crimes against humanity during his initial appearance before the UN-backed International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), reports Hirondelle Agency.

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The accused was transferred to Arusha, Tanzania, after a prolonged one-year legal battle in Germany over his trial before the UN Court, trying key architects of the 1994 genocide.

The former Planning Minister was suspected of encouraging the mass murder of members of Rwanda's Tutsi minority by arming the Hutu majority. He was arrested in September, last year.

"I am not guilty" , the bespectacled Ngirabatware, in a smart dark blue suite and a blue tie, confidently responded when asked by the Presiding Judge Asoka De Silva of Sri Lanka after every count, whether he was guilty or not guilty in proceedings which lasted about two-and-half hours.

The accused faces charges of genocide, complicity in genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, crimes against humanity (murder, extermination, rape, inhumane acts) and serious violations of the Geneva Conventions and of Additional Protocol II.

The prosecution claims, among others, that Ngirabatware channeled funds from his ministry to purchase arms "not for national defence, but to arm the civilian population to carry out massacres."

"Ngirabatware is also on record to have publicly made speech to exterminate Tutsis," claimed the prosecution, adding that the speech was even re-broadcast over the hate radio RTLM the next day.

Ngirabatware served as Rwanda's planning minister for the four years leading up to the genocide and has since then lived in Gabon and in France for long periods.

He is the son-in-law of most wanted fugitive Felicien Kabuga, who has also been named by the ICTR as a genocide suspect. Kabuga, a wealthy businessman, alleged to have financed the genocide and suspected to be hiding in Kenya.

The accused was initially jointly charged with Jean de Dieu Kamhuhanda, former Minister for Higher Education and Scientific Research who in January 2004 was convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for the remainder of his life, following dismissal of his appeal on 19 September 2005.

Currently 57 detainees are held at the Special United Nations Detention Facility (UNDF) -- 28 of them are on trial and eight are still waiting for their trials to start.

According to the United Nations estimates, about 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in the April-July 1994 slaughter.

The ICTR was set up by the United Nations Security Council in the aftermath of the genocide to try the key architects of the killings. So far, the Tribunal has delivered 36 judgements, including five acquittals.


© Hirondelle News Agency