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Friday, October 9, 1998 Published at 21:36 GMT 22:36 UK

World: Africa

Thousands of genocide suspects to be released

Government tries to be sensitive with the survivors of the 1994 massacre

The authorities in Rwanda have announced they are to release 10,000 prisoners being held on suspicion of involvement in the genocide of 1994.

The Rwandan Justice Minister, Faustin Nteliyayo, said the measure would affect only those cases where there is no clear evidence or those involving minor crimes.

The minister said that in the case of many prisoners, no actual file exists, making it very difficult to bring them to trial.

He said Rwanda wanted to show it respected its own laws, and that it was not acceptable to have people held in prison indefinitely with no details available as to what they had done.

Overcrowded jails

There are currently over 120,000 Rwandans in jail in connection with the genocide.

The BBC East Africa correspondent, Martin Dawes, says the government announcement follows pressure from human rights groups who have criticised severe overcrowding in Rwandan prisons - and the fact that many of the prisoners have not been charged.

In the aftermath of the mass killings, a simple denunciation of the new Tutsi-dominated authorities was enough to ensure incarceration.

The Tutsis were the main target of the state-sponsored genocide, in which considerable numbers of ordinary people took part.

Sensitivity to survivors

The new Rwandan Government has for some time accepted the logic that people would have to be released from the chronically-overcrowded jails but argued that they had to be sensitive to the feelings of the survivors.

Announcing the releases, the justice minister said that no dates had yet been set because the authorities wanted to organise awareness campaigns across the country.

He made it clear that this was not an amnesty and if new information emerged, people would be liable to re-arrest.

The government has made it clear it wants to focus its energies on the more serious offenders - those it refers to as the ringleaders and orchestrators of the killing.

It accepts that many of the others, particularly those who were involved in crimes against property, should go free.

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