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The BBC's Chris Simpson
"A huge relief to Pope John Paul"
 real 28k

Thursday, 15 June, 2000, 18:50 GMT 19:50 UK
Rwandan bishop cleared of genocide
Bishop Augustin Misago
Bishop Misago: Always maintained his innocence
A Catholic bishop has been acquitted of genocide charges after a Rwandan court ruled he played no part in any killings during the 1994 genocide.

The Roman Catholic Church has welcomed the verdict.

It's a reaction of joy. I'm extremely happy that justice and truth have triumphed.

Bishop Augustin Misago

Augustin Misago was the bishop of Gikongoro, a prefecture in southern Rwanda during the genocide, and would have faced a death penalty had he been found guilty.

"All accusations against Misago have been dropped. Misago is free. Misago has won the trial," said Criminal Court Judge Jariel Sekarusu in the capital, Kigali.

Applause rang out through the court as the verdict was announced.

The 56-year-old bishop, dressed in prison-issued pink shirt and shorts welcomed the verdict and said he was full of joy.

Asked what he was going to do after being in detention for over a year he said "I am Rwandan, I can do nothing else than go back home."

Vatican welcome

The Vatican envoy to Rwanda, Papal Nuncio Salvatore Pennachio, said it was a day of truth and justice.

Rwandan skulls
Hundreds of thousands died in the 1994 genocide
A spokesman for the Roman Catholic Bishops' Conference in Kigali, Vincent Kagawo, said he hoped those in Rwanda who had made easy accusations against churchmen in regard to the genocide, would now think twice before doing so again.

The bishop has received the backing of the Pope and other senior Vatican officials right from the start of his trial.

The Vatican has long maintained the trial was part of a long-running campaign against the Catholic church in Rwanda, and the church has frequently complained about proceedings in court.

The trial of Bishop Augustin Misago finished last month, with the prosecution calling for his execution.

Ethnic Hutu extremists massacred around 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in three months of ethnic violence in 1994.

Victim of 'conspiracy'

Bishop Misago, a Hutu, was arrested in April 1999 and charged with helping to plan Rwanda's 1994 genocide, but he is not accused of carrying out any murders.

He has always maintained his innocence, saying he only attended high-level meetings during the genocide to appeal for calm.

Bishop Misago told BBC correspondent Chris Simpson in prison last year that he had nothing to fear and that he was the victim of an elaborate political conspiracy, with the Rwandan Government spoiling for a fight with the Catholic Church.

Bishop Misago said he had repeatedly spoken out against extremism and violence, and had extended what protection he could to those most in danger.

Bishop Misago's defence lawyers maintained there was no real case to answer, describing the prosecution's evidence as flimsy and contradictory.

But it has faced strong criticism from genocide survivors and human rights groups for staying silent during the slaughter and for its failure to apologise afterwards.

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See also:

22 Jan 00 | Africa
Rwanda updates genocide list
11 Jan 00 | Africa
Rwandans to sue UN
18 Mar 99 | Africa
Eyewitness: Rwanda's survivors
16 Dec 99 | Africa
UN admits failure in Rwanda
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