Arusha, March 17, 2010 (FH) - A former member of the Rwandan Armed Forces (RAF) testifying in defence of genocide-accused Jean-Baptiste Gatete narrated on Thursday before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) the army's rout in the wake of President Juvenal Habyarimana's assassination.

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Augustin Habakubaho, who now lives in exile in Cameroon, was then a first class soldier. He worked as secretary at the Mutara military district Transmission Center where he was in charge of receiving and transmitting telegrams to the RAF hierarchy, in addition to filing military communications.

He remembers receiving two telegrams the night of April 6, 1994. The first announced that the President's plane had been shot down over Kigali. Hours later, the second telegram requested Camp and District Commanders to drive to Kigali for a meeting the following day.

When he came back from the capital, on April 7, District Commander Lieutenant-colonel Léonard Nkundiye learned that his troops' defensive positions close to the Ugandan border were under serious attack from the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) rebels.

"The next day, we received telegrams announcing the fall of our positions in Ngarama, Muvumba and Gituza", the witness explained. Under cover of darkness, Nkundiye and his staff moved away from the border, relocating from Camp Gabiro to Murambi commune.   

"On April 9, our troops in Marimba, Kagitumba, Ryabega and Nyagatare retreated. In the early afternoon, Camp Gabiro was taken. Our troops withdrew from Nyakayaga and the Rwagitima hills", the witness said.

There was no rest the day thereafter. Lieutenant-colonel Nkundiye again had to move headquarters, this time settling down in the camp of the gendarmerie at Rwamagana, only 50 kilometers from Kigali.

Only days later, the RAF troops were also ousted from this camp, abandoning large amounts of rice supplies to the rebels.

Augustin Habakubaho did not comment directly on the charges brought against Jean-Baptiste Gatete.  His testimony will continue on Thursday.

Jean Baptiste Gatete was bourgmestre - mayor - of his native Murambi commune,in Byumba prefecture from 1987 until June 1993. He was a member of the National Congress of former ruling party MRND and was active in party politics both at national and provincial level.

Gatete was ousted as bourgmestre in 1993 amidst allegations that he persecuted the Tutsis of Murambi. He was then appointed Director in the Ministry of Women and Family Affairs.

According to the Prosecution, Gatete continued to hold sway over local police, gendarmes and militiamen in the Byumba and Kibungo prefectures after his dismissal.

He is charged with genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, incitement to commit genocide and crimes against humanity. He pleads not guilty.

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


© Hirondelle News Agency