11.10.10 - ICTR/NZABONIMANA - WITNESS BACKS UP FORMER RWANDAN MINISTER'S DEFENCE OF ALIBI

Arusha, October 11, 2010 (FH) - The trial of former Rwandan Youth Minister Callixte Nzabonimana resumed Monday before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) with the defendant calling a witness to back up his defence of alibi.
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Nzabonimana claims that he was at the French Embassy in Kigali during genocide between April 7and 12, 1994, but the prosecution alleges in the indictment that within such period he was busy organizing killings of Tutsis in his native commune of Nyabikenke, Gitarama prefecture (Central Rwanda).

The witness called to the stand was Leoncie Bongwa, the wife of former Rwandan Minister for Transport and Communications Andre Ntagurera, who was also charged with genocide and acquitted later in 2005. The Appeals Chamber confirmed his acquittal in 2006.

Despite his acquittal since then, Ntagurera is still languishing in a "safe house" in Arusha, waiting for a host country. The ICTR has forwarded his case before UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for solution.

According to Nzabonimana's co-counsel Phillipe Larochelle, Bongwa is among four witnesses who have so far testified to support his client's line of defence of alibi.

In her brief testimony, the 26th defence witness told Trial Chamber III that after the downing of the presidential plane on April 6, 1994, her family sought refuge at the presidential guard on the night of the same day where they found several other families for other ministers, including that of Nzabonimana.

"My family left the presidential guard barracks on April 8, 1994 in the afternoon to the French Embassy where we, once again, met with Nzabonimana and his family and that of other ministers," she said.

According to her, they stayed at the embassy until April 11, 1994 when her family and that of Nzabonimana were evacuated to Bujumbura in Burundi. However, she claimed, Nzabonimana did not accompany them as he remained at the embassy.

Cross-examined by senior trial attorney Paul Ng'arua, the witness refuted the claims that she had come to the Tribunal to give a cover up to Nzabonimana that he never left the embassy between April 8 and 12, 1994.

"I did not come here to give cover up to anybody else. What kind of protection I can give to him ? I do not know what crimes he committed. What I am speaking here is the only truth that within such period he was at the French embassy," the witness stressed.

Nzabonimana is facing five charges of genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, extermination and murder. Nzabonimana has pleaded not guilty.

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