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At UN tribunal, former Rwandan mayor pleads not guilty to genocide charges

At UN tribunal, former Rwandan mayor pleads not guilty to genocide charges

Making his initial appearance before a judge at the United Nations war crimes tribunal, the former mayor of a commune in Rwanda pleaded not guilty today to five counts charging him with genocide and crimes against humanity committed during the 1994 massacres in the country.

Sylvestre Gacumbitsi, 54, former Bourgmestre of Rusumo commune in Kibungo prefecture, entered his plea during an appearance before Judge Lloyd Williams of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), which is based in Arusha, Tanzania.

Mr. Gacumbits is charged with five counts of genocide (or in the alternative, complicity in genocide) and crimes against humanity including extermination, murder and rape. He is alleged to have organized campaigns inciting Hutu civilians to kill their Tutsi neighbours, resulting in thousands of deaths, and to have killed persons by his own hand, ordered killings by subordinates and led several attacks against Tutsis.

Travelling around the commune to monitor the course of the massacres, the accused is alleged to have distributed machetes and other weapons to facilitate the killings. The indictment also charges the accused with causing women to be raped. Using a megaphone, he is alleged to have announced from his vehicle, "Search in the bushes, do not save a single snake. Hutu that save Tutsis would be killed. Tutsi girls that have always refused to sleep with Hutu should be raped and sticks placed in their genitals."

Mr. Gacumbitsi was arrested on 20 June 2001 in Mukungwa refugee camp in Kigoma, Tanzania, and transferred that day to the Tribunal's Detention Facility in Arusha.