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Rwanda Genocide Trial to Open in Belgium

Two Rwandans are set go on trial for their roles in the 1994 genocide in their country in Brussels Monday under Belgium's controversial "universal competence" law.


More than 500,000 people died in the genocide in Rwanda in 1994

Etienne Nzabonimana, 53, and his half brother, Samuel Ndashyikirwa, 43, will face accusations of war crimes, murder and attempted murder before a jury, according to a 34-page report prepared by Federal Prosecutor Philippe Meire after 10 years of investigations. In June 2001, a Brussels court gave four Rwandans, including two nuns, prison terms ranging from 12 to 20 years for their roles in the genocide.

"The present case follows the same logic: to bring to justice people suspected of having participated in the killing on a large scale which caused several hundred thousand victims in Rwanda in 1994," Meire said.

The grounds for the second trial of Rwandans lie in a 1993 law which allows Belgian courts to judge suspects accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, regardless of where the alleged acts were committed or the nationality of the accused or victims.

The law was watered down in 2003 under pressure from the United States, some of whose leaders faced lawsuits because of it. But the trial of the two Rwandan men, who could face life sentences, is unaffected by the changes because they were in Belgium when they were arrested.

Beer for killers

Völkermord Friedhof Ruanda

Nyaza Cemetery outside Kigali, where thousands of victims of the genocide are buried.

The two stand accused of acts that occurred in the northeastern district of Kibungo where some of the worst massacres took place, claiming 50,000 victims in about two weeks.

The first suspect, Etienne Nzabonimana, was a well-known businessman in the region who sold beer wholesale. He was arrested in the Belgian capital in October 2002 and fiercely denies any involvement in the massacres.

But the prosecution claims he played an important role in organizing in Kibungo the massacres in the months ahead of the genocide, in which Hutu troops and extremist militias killed some 800,000 Tutsis and Hutus who opposed the slaughter. He also let the militias known as Interhamwe use his vehicles during their purges and offered them beer on coming back. He is also accused of being present during several attacks and of giving orders to the militias.

The second suspect, Samuel Ndashyikirwa, was arrested in December 2002 in Brussels where he was living under a fake identity. He had a small business selling drinks and was well respected in his village of Kirwa, about a half an hour drive from Kibungo.

Ndashyikirwa, who denies the charges against him, is also accused of having participated in preparations for massacres and having let Interhamwe use his vehicles. He stands accused of having directly or indirectly taken part in killings.

About half the 170 witnesses in the case are coming to Brussels for the trial. "Until now we have 76 witness who are supposed to leave" for Belgium, Rwandan prosecutor Emmanuel Rukangira told AFP in Kigali. Other witnesses, who are currently under detention or on parole in Rwanda, will give testimony by a video-link, he added.

The trial is expected to last seven weeks and end on June 24.

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