Arusha, January 17, 2011 (FH) - At 9 am, Mathieu Ngirumpatse left his seat next to his lawyers to enter the witness box in front of his three judges.

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Alongside former vice-president of the MRND Edouard Karemera, Ngirumpatse is charged with genocide and war crimes.

"How are you doing, Mr Ngirumpatse?", his lead counsel Chantal Houkpatin asked. - "I am just doing as usually, with ups and downs, but I'll try to do my best", the former President of the ruling party in 1994 (MRND) answered.

Ngirumpatse's poor health had caused a long interruption of his trial. Testifying in his own defense, he told his story since he was born on December 12, 1939 in a little town near Kigali.

"My father was one of the first to be baptized by the missionaries. He then became a teacher. My parents had a high social status at the time", he explained to the judges.

Anastase Murambya and his spouse had fifteen children. "Our parents taught us how to be brave, upright, honest and people of integrity", Ngirumpatse claimed. "On the religious side, they taught us to love others and to help them before they ask", he added. Their father was also an excellent player of inanga, the traditional Rwandese zither. All of his children learned to play the instrument.

The accused is a well-known writer, composer and poet in Rwanda.

After studying in Rwanda and the Belgian Congo, Ngirumpatse went on to the University of Bujumbura (Burundi) in 1960. However, after only a few months, he had to return to Rwanda "due to the deterioration of the political situation in the Great Lakes Region".

In 1962, Ngirumpatse started working for the Rwandan Office of the Prosecution. In November 1973, in the wake of his coup d'état, the new head of state, General Juvénal Habyarimana, whom Ngirumpatse knew from school, appointed him ambassador in Ethiopia. Five years later, he was posted to Germany.

In 1982, he went back to college in Strasburg (France) to finish his law degree. He completed his studies in 1985 with a PhD.

He then returned to his home country where he became successively the diplomatic adviser of President Habyarimana, Executive Director of the national insurance company Sonarwa and Minister of Justice.

He claims that he never discriminated against the Tutsis and never amassed money during all these years. "All that mattered to me were people's skill sets [and not their ethnic group] (...) I never paid much attention to money", he stated.

In 1994, Ngirumpatse was the President of the ruling MRND party and a lawyer. He was also one of the leaders of Kigali's choir, playing the organ and writing religious music.

The accused is expected to comment next week on the charges brought against him.


© Hirondelle News Agency