Arusha, October 26, 2009 (FH) -The former head of the Rwandan Tea Authority, Michel Bagaragaza, who pleads guilty before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) for his role in the 1994 genocide, will call his first "character witnesses" on November 2, according to the tribunal's schedule.

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Bagaragaza, a close friend of the former Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana, admitted to ‘'complicity to commit genocide'' on September 17.

His is the ninth guilty plea before the ICTR, the result of difficult negotiations between the accused and the Office of the Prosecutor.

Bagaragaza had hoped to be tried in Europe, in exchange for his collaboration with the Prosecution. Having testified against other defendants, including Protais Zigiranyirazo, Habyarimana's brother-in-law, Bagaragaza, who said he feared for his safety, had been transferred to, and detained in, The Hague.

The prosecutor had committed himself to a trial in a European country. But initial attempts in Norway, and subsequently in The Netherlands, failed. In May 2008, the defendant was sent back to Arusha.

Bagaragaza nonetheless stuck to his guilty plea which permits the ICTR to expedite his trial. In exchange, he hopes for clemency.

With the notable exception of the former Rwandan Prime Minister Jean Kambanda, who was sentenced to life in prison, all defendants owning up to their responsibility in the 1994 genocide have benefited from substantially reduced terms.


© Hirondelle News Agency