Kigali, October 16, 2009 (FH) - A Rwandan general and former Hutu rebel commander who had rallied to the post-1994 regime in December 2005, Séraphin Bizimungu, was sentenced on rehearing, on Thursday, to life imprisonment by the Gacaca Court of Nyagatare (Eastern Rwanda) on charges of genocide.

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"He lost again and was convicted to life in prison", a member of the tribunal's jury told Hirondelle News Agency over the telephone.

General Bizimungu had already been sentenced to life imprisonment in December 2008 for his participation in massacres perpetrated against Tutsis in the small town of Nyagatara, in February 1994. His appeal had been rejected earlier this year.

While the Rwandan genocide started for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in the hours following the shooting down of former President Habyarimana's plane, on April 6, 1994, the Gacaca Courts consider that massacres of Tutsis prior to the ICTR's cut-off date are part of the genocidal plan and need to be prosecuted as such.

Therefore, the Gacaca Courts' temporal competence - ratione temporis - extends from the beginning to the end of the civil war in Rwanda, i.e. from October 1st, 1990 until December 31st, 1994.

Inspired by Rwandan tradition, the Gacaca Courts (gacaca meaning "lawn") are charged by the new authorities with trying alleged participants in the 1994 genocide, with the exception of "planners at the national level". The courts are presided not by professional judges, but by local notables commanding high esteem.

In February 1994, Séraphin Bizimungu, who also went by the name Amani Mahoro, was a young officer combating, within the ranks of the Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR), the rebels from the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF, in power since 1994).

After the defeat of the government forces, he fled into the East of today's Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC, former Zaire). There, together with other defeated Hutu military, he then set up a rebel movement, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

In December 2005, Bizimungu defected from the FDLR and rallied to the new Rwandan army. A member of the domestic military intelligence service, he was part of the post-genocide armed forces until his arrest in 2008.