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15 Apr 2002 00:00
The army colonel who gave the order that launched the murder of nearly a million Tutsis in Rwanda?s genocide refused to attend the start of his own trial at an international court on Tuesday.
Prosecutors described Colonel Theoneste Bagosora as the central figure in a vast conspiracy to exterminate every Tutsi in the country during the onslaught, which began eight years ago this week.
?Bagosora was at the centre of the conspiracy to commit genocide,? prosecutor Chile Eboe-Osuji told the court.
Bagosora (61) faces 12 counts of genocide and other crimes against humanity, including murder, extermination and rape.
The former Cabinet director in Rwanda?s defence ministry not only organised the militias that carried out the slaughter, but personally ordered individual murders. They included the killing of Rwanda?s prime minister, Agathe Uwilingiyimana, who was violently and sexually assaulted before she was shot by Bagosora?s troops.
Belgium holds the colonel responsible for the murder of 10 of its peacekeepers, who had been guarding Uwilingiyimana when they were disarmed and taken to Kigali?s main barracks.
The killing of the Belgians was seen as a way of driving United Nations peacekeepers out of the country at the start of the genocide, and it worked.
The trial is the most important so far for the international tribunal for Rwanda, which has been successful in tracking down the organisers and leading players in the genocide, but less so at getting them into the court room.
The tribunal holds 60 of the genocide?s organisers and leading killers, including most of the Rwandan Cabinet of the time. Among them is a former prime minister, Jean Kambanda, who pleaded guilty to genocide and crimes against humanity four years ago. But he is the only member of the Cabinet to be convicted.
Bagosora ? who is often called ?Rwanda?s Himmler? after the SS leader who organised the extermination of Jews ? has been in custody since his arrest in Cameroon six years ago. He went on trial with three
fellow army officers at the tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania. All defendants refused to appear in court because their lawyers said they were being denied a fair hearing.
Bagosora, Brigadier General Gratien Kabiligi, Lieutenant Colonel Anatole Nsengiyumva and Battalion Commander Aloys Ntabakuze claim that delays in translating prosecution documents and other administrative problems are undermining their rights.
The judges ruled that the trial could go ahead without the accused in court. The trial is expected to last two years and the prosecution alone is expected to call 200 witnesses. Consequently, the defendants? lawyers concede that they will eventually attend, if only to see who their accusers are.
All the defendants are accused of playing key roles in planning or launching the genocide. But it is Bagosora who brought them together and gave the orders.
The prosecution laid out the vast web of conspiracy that Bagosora helped weave. It covered the training and arming of the notorious interahamwe militia and the mass propaganda pumped out by the hate radio station, Radio Mille Collines.
?They helped convince the population that Tutsis as a whole and Hutus opposed to the [ruling] party were enemies of the state. They trained and armed civilians. They set the pattern that was to follow during the time of genocide,? Eboe-Osuji said.
Two years before the genocide, Bagosora was instrumental in the creation of the Zero Network, a civilian-military death squad that committed massacres before the genocide was unleashed.
The crisis was brought to a head by a peace agreement between president Juvenal Habyarimana and the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front rebels.
?Bagosora was once seen leaving the [peace] talks and when he was asked: ?Colonel, where are you going??, he replied: ?Going to prepare the second apocalypse?,? said Eboe-Osuji.
A year before the genocide, Bagosora made it clear what he intended to do, but its scope was so unthinkable, even in a country where Tutsis had been persecuted for decades, that his remarks were taken as simply more rhetoric amid a climate of hatred in the papers and on the radio.
And even though credible warnings were given to the UN force in Kigali, they were ignored.
Then on April 6 1994 Habyarimana?s plane was shot down ? probably on Bagosora?s orders ? and the onslaught began.
Eboe-Osuji described how Bagosora called a meeting of his close associates within hours of the president?s murder.
The prosecutor said: ?The theme of the discussion was extermination of Tutsis. Bagosora was heard saying: ?We must kill Tutsis, we must kill all Tutsis at all costs. We must start by mounting roadblocks throughout Rwanda.??
The next day roadblocks were thrown up across many parts of the country and the killing of Tutsis
began in earnest.
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