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Wednesday, September 2, 1998 Published at 09:40 GMT 10:40 UK

World: Africa

Tribunal convicts Rwandan genocide suspect

Jean-Paul Akayesu: found guilty of genocide

A former mayor has been found guilty of genocide by the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda for his part in the mass killings of ethnic Tutsis in 1994.

It is the first verdict reached by the tribunal since it was set up four years ago, and the first ever conviction by an international court on charges of genocide.

Jean-Paul Akayesu, the former Mayor of Taba commune in Rwanda, sat impassively behind his defence lawyers as the court president, Laity Kama of Senegal, said he had been convicted on nine of the 15 charges against him.

Agwu Ukiwe Okali of the UN tribunal: other convictions likely
The three judges, sitting in Arusha, Tanzania, found Akayesu guilty of genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of the Geneva Conventions relating to the Rwanda massacres of 1994.

The international tribunal will hold a pre-sentencing hearing on 28 September.

The maximum sentence allowed by the international tribunal is life imprisonment. In Rwanda itself, those accused of genocide have been executed by the authorities there.

Ethnic killings

During the trial, which began 19 months ago, prosecutors said the defendant had instigated massacres, torture and acts of sexual violence.

The crimes were said to have taken place in mid-1994 when about one million ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were murdered in Rwanda.

Akayesu was alleged to have been in a position of responsibility when the killings took place.

The court was told that in his area, some 2,000 people were murdered and that he was present at many killings, beatings and rapes.

Defence case rejected

The judges rejected defence arguments that Akayesu was helpless to prevent the massacres because the soldiers and militia who carried out many of the killings were more powerful than he was as a politician.

Judge Laity Kama said that in Rwanda a mayor "was treated with a lot of deference by the people and had a lot of power."

The killings, he said, had been "meticulously organised".

In its judgement, the tribunal cleared Akayesu of several charges relating to specific incidents such as the alleged killing of five teachers in front of a village office.

However, it convicted him on the more general charges of genocide, inhuman acts, torture, extermination and murder.

More trials to follow

More than 30 suspects are currently being held by the tribunal.

On Friday, the tribunal will sentence the former Rwandan Prime Minister, Jean Kambanda, who, after entering a guilty plea, has promised to testify against those chiefly responsible for the killings.

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