Fri, Jul 06, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Rwandan major guilty of Belgians' deaths

AFP , BRUSSELS

Yolande Mukagasana, who lost her husband, three children and her sister, cries on the last day of the trial of former Rwandan army commander Bernard Ntuyahaga at the Brussels Assize court on Wednesday. Ntuyahaga was found guilty of the 1994 killings of 10 Belgian UN peacekeepers.

PHOTO: AFP

A former Rwandan army commander was found guilty on Wednesday of the 1994 killings of 10 Belgian UN peacekeepers protecting then Rwandan prime minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana.

However, the court in Brussels acquitted the ex-major, 55-year-old Bernard Ntuyahaga, of the killing of Uwilingiyimana, an ethnic Tutsi, who died at her home on April 7, 1994, after the peacekeepers were disarmed.

After more than five hours of deliberations, a 12-member jury decided he was guilty of "premeditated homicide" by ordering that the paratroopers be seized and taken to the "Camp Kigali" military barracks where they were lynched.

They were escorting the prime minister to a radio station to make a public call for national unity, just hours after Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, was killed when his plane was downed by unknown assailants.

That assassination sparked the Rwandan genocide in which some 800,000 people -- mainly minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus -- were massacred by Hutu extremists in the central African country.

Rwandan troops killed the UN peacekeepers, accusing them of shooting down Habyarimana's plane. Their slaughter shocked Belgium, which withdrew its personnel from Rwanda immediately afterwards.

Ntuyahaga was also found guilty of the killing of several of his neighbors, including a former mistress, in Kigali as they tried to flee the massacres.

Under Belgian court procedure, he was due to be sentenced at a new hearing yesterday, which the jury were also to attend. The prosecutor and defense legal team can also make further claims at that time.

Lawyers for the accused had argued during the 10-week hearing that it was a "political trial" aimed at "finding someone responsible" for the killings.

Earlier on Wednesday, before the verdict was reached, Ntuyahaga said he still held out hope that "sooner or later, justice will prevail."

Shortly after it, his defense team vowed to appeal.

Marc Uyttendaele, a lawyer for the peacekeepers' families, welcomed the ruling as a means of "reconciliation" with the Belgian government, which he said "had not been up to the mark" during the Rwandan genocide.

Ntuyahaga was tried under Belgium's so-called "universal competence" law under which people accused of crimes against humanity can be judged in Belgium as long as their case is linked to the country.

He turned himself in to the Belgian authorities in 2004 and has denied all charges against him but could face a sentence of life in prison.

The hearing in Brussels, which began on April 13, was the third case related to the events in Rwanda to be tried in Belgium.

In a landmark trial in June 2001, a court sentenced four Rwandans, including two nuns, to between 12 and 20 years in prison for their roles in the massacres.

In June 2005, a court sentenced two businessmen from northern Rwanda to 10 and 12 years in prison after finding them guilty of war crimes and murder linked to the genocide.

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