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Friday, March 19, 1999 Published at 15:14 GMT

World: Africa

Rwanda tribunal frees suspect

Rwanda Government soldiers in June 1994 during the genocide

The UN tribunal on the genocide in Rwanda has released a former Rwandan army officer accused of involvement in the killing of 10 Belgian peacekeepers and the Rwandan prime minister in 1994.

Cathy Jenkins in Nairobi :"The ruling will be an embarrassment."
Prosecutors had asked the judges to drop the murder charge against the man, Bernard Ntuyahaga, so that he could be handed over to Belgium for trial.

But the three-judge panel at the tribunal in Tanzania ruled that they had no power to hand him over. They did agree however to drop the charge against Mr Ntuyahaga.

Justice Richard Goldstone: "The other accused ... will be standing trial on most serious charges"
Commenting on the decision, South African judge Justice Richard Goldstone, who was instrumental in setting the tribunal, denied that the outcome of the proceedings suggested inefficiency.

"As I understand it, the 3-judge panel has decided ... that the international tribunal has no power to order the extradition of any person from Tanzania to Belgium, and with respect, they seem to be correct," said Justice Goldstone.

He distinguished between the charges relating to Mr Ntuyahaga and more serious charges against a number of other suspects.

But the BBC's correspondent Cathy Jenkins says the ruling will be an embarrassment for the court, which although initially heavily criticised for incompetence, has now passed three jail sentences against genocide convicts.

The UN tribunal's spokesman admitted that this was a delicate situation, but on the face of it, he said, the matter was closed.

In the Rwandan capital, Kigali, the government, in a Foreign Ministry statement, said it was "surprised and shocked" by the tribunal's decision.

Death in Kigali

The former army officer is alleged to have taken the Belgians to a military camp in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, and to have told soldiers there that the peacekeepers were responsible for the death of President Juvenal Habyarimana on April 6, 1994.

Mr Habyarimana's plane was shot down just before landing in Kigali. The assailants have still not been identified.

The Belgians, members of the United Nations peacekeeping force in Rwanda, were killed at the camp in front of Rwandan army officers, including Mr Ntuyahaga.

They had been guarding prime minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana who was later murdered by Rwandan soldiers and militiamen for being a moderate.

Fears for safety

After Thursday's ruling, Mr Ntuyahaga, wearing a bullet-proof vest, was returned to the tribunal's detention centre, reportedly at his request.

[ image: Ntuyahaga is believed to be involved with the killing of 10 Belgian soldiers]
Ntuyahaga is believed to be involved with the killing of 10 Belgian soldiers
"I fear for my safety," he said. He said he thought Tanzania would arrest him and turn him over either to Belgium or to Rwanda.

It was unclear whether Tanzanian authorities would arrest Mr Ntuyahaga for extradition or whether he would be freed.

"That's the biggest issue," said Mohamed Othman, a tribunal prosecutor at the tribunal. "Now it is up to the Tanzanian authorities."

Under an agreement with the tribunal, Tanzania cannot rearrest a suspect on the same charge for 15 days after their release.


But according to a senior tribunal officer, Tanzania could in theory rearrest him for violating immigration laws when he entered the country from Zambia last year to give himself up.

Joy Mukanyange, Rwanda's ambassador to Tanzania, said her country was preparing an extradition request

Mr Ntuyahaga surrendered to the tribunal last year, saying he feared for his life. The killings triggered the onslaught of the three-month genocide in which at least half-a-million minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus like the prime minister were murdered.

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