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Tuesday, 2 April, 2002, 16:38 GMT 17:38 UK
Rwandan genocide suspect snubs trial
Remains of genocide victims
Some 800,000 Rwandans were killed in three months
A former Rwandan colonel accused of masterminding the massacre of hundreds of thousands of people in 1994 has boycotted the start of his trial.

Colonel Theoneste Bagosora refused to leave his cell and demanded access to key legal documents. His three co-defendants also boycotted the court.

1994: The year of genocide
April
Rwandan President Habyarimana killed in plane crash
April - July
An estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus killed
July
Tutsi-led rebel movement RPF captures Rwandan capital Kigali
July
Two million Hutus flee to Zaire, now the DRC
"The fundamental rights of the defence have been violated," said defence lawyer Jean Degli. "They consider that the prosecution has ambushed them".

Prosecutors at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) say Colonel Bagosora helped plan the slaughter of 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

The 61-year-old pleads not guilty to all 12 charges he faces, including genocide and conspiracy to commit genocide, in the court in Arusha, in northern Tanzania.

The prosecution believes the case - the first to bring a top military figure before the tribunal - could shed some light on how the Rwandan leadership plotted the killings.

'Principle perpetrators'

In her opening statement, the tribunal's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, said: "Some of the charges brought against these men are frightening ... others reveal the plan organised and implemented in cold blood."

Colonel Theoneste Bagosora
Bagosora: 'Ambushed' by court, according to his lawyers
"These four men are among the principle perpetrators of the genocide," she added.

Colonel Bagosora's lawyers said his absence from the court was in protest at the prosecution's failure to provide translations of crucial documents or a list of witnesses.

But the prosecution said that the defence team had failed to read documents properly.

"To come to court and start pointing fingers was wrong," said prosecutor Chile Eboe-Osuji.

'Apocalypse'

The prosecution says Colonel Bagosora played a key role in plotting to exterminate the Tutsis and moderate Hutus, and that he also set up the Interahamwe - gangs of Hutu extremists who carried out much of the slaughter.

The indictment alleges that he set out to "prepare the apocalypse" three years before the killings began.

His defence says there is no hard evidence to link him to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Rwandans.

Colonel Bagosora has been in custody since 1996, when he was arrested in Cameroon. He is being charged along with three other military officers, also accused of genocide.

Mystery

Between April and June 1994, an estimated 800,000 Rwandans were killed in the space of 100 days.

Most of the dead were Tutsis - and most of those who perpetrated the violence were Hutus.

UN Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte
Del Ponte: Crimes 'offend human dignity'
One of the biggest mysteries of the period remains the plane crash that killed Rwandan President Jevenal Habyarimana on 6 April 1994, and which is widely regarded by many as the trigger for the massacres that began hours later.

Prosecutors allege Colonel Bagosora assumed control of military and political affairs in Rwanda following the crash.

Analysts say defence lawyers of the four accused are likely to demand an investigation into the crash, arguing that Tutsi rebels - not Hutu extremists - triggered the genocide by shooting the plane down.

The ICTR has so far convicted eight genocide suspects, including former Rwandan Prime Minister Jean Kambanda, and acquitted one.

Colonel Bagosora's trial is expected to last two years and hear testimony from hundreds of witnesses.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Ishbel Matheson
"The killing was the result of careful planning"
Dr Vincent Magombe, Africa Inform International
"There has been a lot of false evidence just because people are so angry"
Professor Philip Reyntjens, Antwerp University
"The fear of many Hutus was that the Tutsis were going to take over"
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