Prosecutors accused a former Rwandan army officer of playing a key role in the murder of thousands of people when his trial on charges of genocide and other war crimes opened today at the United Nations tribunal set up after the orgy of killings that engulfed the small African nation in 1994.
Deputy Prosecutor Bongani Majola told three judges of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), which sits in Arusha, Tanzania, that Lt.-Col. Aloys Simba, helped plan, order and carry out the massacre of thousands of Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus in two provinces in southern Rwanda.
Mr. Majola said that even though the 61-year-old suspect had retired from the army in 1988, he acted in 1994 as if he was still in office, wearing military uniform, riding in military vehicles and using his influence and prestige as a former lawmaker in the Rwandan parliament and wealthy citizen in one of his country's poorest areas.
The notorious Interahamwe militias, communal police and civilians who participated in the massacres in Gikongoro and Butare prefectures that year all fell under his authority, according to Mr. Majola.
The prosecution also alleges Mr. Simba held influence because of his friendship with President Juvenal Habyarimana, whose death in a still unexplained plane crash on 6 April set off almost three months of brutal massacres.
Mr. Majola added that Mr. Simba personally shot and killed unarmed Tutsi civilians who were trying to flee from the killers, and appeared at massacre sites to re-supply local militias with fresh weapons.
Before and during the killings Mr. Simba is further alleged to have told Tutsis to flee the country and made clear his desire to wipe out the Tutsi population at public rallies and meetings.
Mr. Simba, who was arrested in November 2001 in Senegal, has pleaded not guilty to charges of genocide, complicity in genocide, and two crimes against humanity: extermination and murder.
Estimates vary but as many as 800,000 people, nearly entirely Tutsis and moderate Hutus, were murdered in Rwanda between April and June 1994.