Kigali, 24 October 2008 (FH) - The Military Court of Kigali Friday acquitted two senior Rwandan army officers but convicted two other juniors for their roles in the murder in June 1994 in Kabgayi, central Rwanda, of 13 officials of the Catholic Church, including three Bishops, reports Hirondelle Agency.

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The acquitted are General Wilson Gumisiriza and Major Wilson Ukwishaka, who rejected throughout the proceedings their involvement in the killings of the priests, including three bishops. Those convicted for eight years are Captains John Butera and Dieudonne Rukeba, who both had pleaded guilty to the crimes from the beginning of the trial on 19 August.

On 24 September, Military Prosecutor, Captain Kayijuka Ngabo, had requested life imprisonment for General Gumisiriza and Major Ukwishaka and 15 years each for Captains Butera and Rukeba.

In his ruling, The Tribunal's President, Steven Karyango, said Gumisiriza and Ukwishaka did not have information that the murders were about to be committed and thus could not prevent them. The two Captains, he said, were given reduced sentences because of their guilty pleas and that the crime was not premeditated.

After the ruling, Gumisiriza and Ukwishaka walked away freely with their family friends and relatives whereas the other two officers were whisked away to the prison.

According to Rwandan law, the Prosecutor has 30 days to appeal against the decision.

The four officers were arrested on 11 June, after, according to the Rwandan army, following joint investigations by Rwandan General Prosecutor and Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).

The ICTR Prosecutor, Hassan Jallow, clarified the day after the officers' arrest, that Rwandan justice could be dispossessed of the case if the trial would not meet international standards on the matter. Efforts to get comments from the Prosecution proved futile Friday.

All four defendants were at the time of the facts that form the case, members of the armed wing of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), former rebellion, currently in power in Rwanda.

Among murdered clergymen, almost all Hutus were the Archbishop of Kigali, Vincent Nsengiyumva, the Bishop of Byumba (northern Rwanda) Joseph Ruzindana, and the Bishop of Kabgayi, Thaddee Nsengiyumva, then President of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Rwanda.

Archbishop Nsengiyumva, a former member of the "central committee" at the time of the single party, was a family friend of President Juvenal Habyarimana, whose assassination on 6 April 1994 sparked the genocide in which were killed, according to the UN, nearly 800 000 people, mainly ethnic Tutsis.


© Hirondelle News Agency