Arusha, 17 September 2009 (FH) - Michel Bagaragaza, former Rwandan Tea Authority boss during the 1994 genocide and close friend of the former Rwandan President, Juvénal Habyarimana, Thursday pleaded guilty before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) for his role in the massacres.

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Following the guilty plea, the Chamber scheduled November 2 as the date of commencement of the hearing of ‘'character witnesses'' who would be called by the defence.  

During the hearing, presided by Judge Vagn Joensen, the former chief of Tea Authority pleaded to ‘'complicity to commit genocide'' notably for letting the assailants use the authority's vehicles during their killing spree.     

It is the first time in the history of the Tribunal to strike a guilty plea from a close associate of former president Habyarimana. It is the ninth guilty plea, which came after difficult negotiations between the accused and the office of the prosecutor.

The accused had hoped for a long time to be tried in Europe, in exchange of his collaboration with the office of the prosecutor. After having testified against other defendants, including Protais Zigiranyirazo, Habyarimana's brother-in-law, Bagaragaza, who feared for his safety, had been shifted and detained in The Hague, following arrangement with the prosecutor.

In exchange of these testimonies for the prosecution, the prosecutor had indeed committed himself to entrust his case to a European country.

But the attempts to have him tried initially in Norway, then in The Netherlands, failed and the defendant was sent back to Arusha in May 2008.

It was then, according to the arrangement between the two parties that negotiations for the guilty plea started.

Except for the former Prime Minister Jean Kambanda, sentenced to life in prison, all the people having admitted their responsibility in the 1994 genocide have benefited from substantially reduced sentences.

The admission makes it possible for the ICTR to save time and money because the defendant renounces a trial.


© Hirondelle News Agency