Arusha, 17 June 2009 (FH) - The judges  withdrew themselves a day before the verdict was to be delivered in the trial of Priest Joseph Ndagijmana and his 16 co-defendants, all prosecuted before semi-traditional gacaca court in southern Rwanda for their alleged participation in the 1994 genocide, reports Hirondelle Agency.

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Among his 16 co-defendants is another clergyman, the Marist Brother Francois Nkusi.

"The proceedings had ended several days earlier and the judgement was awaited today (Tuesday), but the judges announced that they had decided to withdraw from the case", a member of a regional association for the defence of human rights told Hirondelle Agency.

"Under these conditions, the National Service for the Gacaca Courts (SNJG) will entrust the case to a gacaca bench from a distant area", explained the source on phone from Kigali but requested for anonymity.

Priest Ndagijimana and his co-defendants appeared before the gacaca court of the Byimana sector, in the Muhanga district (South Province).

The priest, who has claimed his innocence, is accused of genocide, murder, illegal possession of a firearm and wearing a military uniform during the massacres.

According to the prosecution, the fact of wearing a military uniform and befriending militiamen in 1994 encouraged the killers.

The clergyman also drove out Tutsis who had come to seek refuge in the parish church of Byimana.

He also faces charges related to the deaths of 7 clergymen and nuns as well as a journalist.

Priest Ndagijmana confessed that he carried a rifle in 1994. He had, however, explained that he had requested the weapon from the ministry of defence to be able to protect the people who had come to seek refuge in his church. Concerning the uniform, he had stated to have worn it twice to go and save Tutsis who were threatened with death.


© Hirondelle News Agency