Arusha, November 2, 2009 (FH) - The seventh prosecution witness in the trial against Jean-Baptiste Gatete, former Rwandan Director in the Ministry of Family and Women Affairs alleged before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) Monday that he witnessed the accused start the massacres at Mukarange Church in Kibungo prefecture on April 12, 1994.

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The defendant is facing charges of genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, incitement to commit genocide and crimes against humanity to which he claimed innocence.

‘'He shot three times in the air and immediately after killings started,'' the protected witness dubbed ‘'BVP'' told the attentive Chamber, presided by Kenyan Judge Lee Muthoga.

The witness had earlier narrated that he saw the ‘'great interahamwe (the accused)'' from his hiding place in the bush distributing weapons to some interahamwe militiamen while the church was already surrounded by between 5,000 and 8,000 interahamwe.

He estimated refugees who sought shelter at the church to be between 3,000 and 5,000.

According to the witness, the accused alighted from his Daihatsu pick-up and told interahamwe that he had brought weapons to reinforce the killings of Tutsis and later distributed to them guns and grenades while others had traditional weapons such as machetes and clubs.

‘'If Gatete had seen   me he could have killed me,'' the witness said in response to the prosecution counsel, Adelaide Whest who was leading him in his Examination-in-Chief.

The witness who allegedly lost all members of his family at the Mukarange Church attacks, including his wife, children and his mother, escaped by running away from the battlefield.

The trial continues on Tuesday.

The prosecution case which started on October 20 was compelled to adjourn three days later to give the defence more time to study some documents which were disclosed late to them.

The defence of Gatete is led by French Marie Pierre Poulain. 

Gatete was dismissed as Mayor in 1993 amidst allegations that he persecuted the Tutsis of Murambi. He was then appointed Director in the Ministry of Family and Women Affairs, then headed by Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, the only woman to be indicted by this UN court for genocide.

According to the prosecution, Gatete continued to hold influence over local police, gendarmes and militiamen in the Byumba and Kibungo prefectures.

The defendant was arrested in Congo-Brazzaville on September 11, 2002, and subsequently transferred to the UN Detention Facility in Arusha.


© Hirondelle News Agency