Witnesses accuse ex-officer in Rwanda genocide trial

24th February 2014, Comments 0 comments

A former Rwandan army captain charged with complicity in the genocide that left 800,000 dead ordered the killing of Tutsis, witnesses in his trial told a French court on Monday.

Pascal Simbikangwa went on trial earlier this month over his role in the 100-day genocide that shocked the world first of its kind in France.

The case of Simbikangwa -- who denies all accusations against him -- is being closely watched in France, which has long been accused of failing to rein in the Rwandan regime at the time of the genocide in 1994.

On Monday, witnesses took the stand for the first time and alleged that Simbikangwa had ordered reprisal attacks and also trained the dreaded Interahamwe militia, a Hutu paramilitary organisation.

Theoneste Habarugira, a Hutu farmer who was in his twenties at the time, said Simbikangwa had come to Gisenyi in northwestern Rwanda a day after the April 6, 1994 assassination of Hutu president Juvenal Habyarimana which sparked the genocide, and given orders for reprisal attacks.

Most of the victims were members of the minority Tutsi community.

"On the afternoon of the 7th he came .... and told us we had to eliminate the enemy," said Habarugira, who told the court that he carried out executions with a club and a grenade.

"At the roadblocks we asked people to show their identity cards and whenever it showed they were Tutsi we killed them," he said, also admitting to widespread pillaging.

Jean de Dieu Bihintare, now aged 52, provided similar testimony, saying Simbikangwa had visited the area the day after the president's assassination and given orders to kill Tutsis.

But Simbikangwa denied ever visiting the village of Kibihekane, where the two witnesses reported seeing him, and dismissed their testimony as the result of either brain-washing or intimidation.

Simbikangwa acknowledges being close to the regime of president Habyarimana but he denies participating in or organising massacres.

He was initially charged with genocide and crimes against humanity but the charges were downgraded to complicity.

His lawyers have attacked the prosecution's case as being based purely on unchallenged witness accounts.

The charges against Simbikangwa are connected to incidents in the Rwandan capital Kigali and his native Gisenyi region.

Prosecutors abandoned an attempt to also implicate him in an April 1994 massacre at Kesho Hill in Gisenyi, because witness accounts of his role only came in years later and were marked by contradictions.

About 1,400 Tutsis were killed at Kesho, many of them in a church where women, children and the elderly had taken refuge.

© 2014 AFP

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