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Thursday, 7 June, 2001, 15:04 GMT 16:04 UK
Rwanda shocked at Arusha acquittal
Remains of genocide victims
An estimated 800,000 Rwandans died in the genocide
The United Nations court looking into the Rwandan genocide handed down a not guilty verdict for the first time on Thursday.

Ignace Bagilishema, formerly mayor of Mabanza commune in western Rwanda, was accused of being instrumental in the murder of 45,000 Tutsis.

The judges said that the prosecution failed to provide enough convincing evidence.

The Rwandan Government said it is shocked by the acquittal of Mr Bagilishema, who it described as one of the most "notorious" criminals from the genocide.

Reading the judgement, Norwegian Judge Erik Mose spoke of the "paucity" of the evidence against Mr Bagilishema, and said that the testimonies of many of the witnesses presented against him were contradictory and unreliable.

By a majority of two to one, the panel of three judges found that there was insufficient evidence to support any of the seven charges against Mr Bagilishema.

'Tutsi defender'

Throughout the trial, Mr Bagilishema had always maintained that he had tried to protect Tutsis, but had not been able to prevent all the attacks.

skulls of victims
The slaughter in Rwanda shocked the world
He was presented by his defence team as a good mayor dedicated to peaceful co-existence of Hutus and Tutsis.

The prosecutor has already said that he intends to appeal against the acquittal, and has also requested that the tribunal keep Mr Bagilishema in custody for another 30 days, in case he flees or poses a threat to witnesses.

The tribunal's normal procedure is for acquitted suspects to be released immediately.

The tribunal has been sitting in Arusha, Tanzania since November 1994 to look into the genocide that left about 800,000 people dead.

There is frustration in Rwanda at how slow the Arusha process has been. The tribunal has found only eight people guilty so far.

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07 Jun 01 | Africa
Rwandan army 'kill 150 rebels'
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