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Last Updated: Sunday, 11 September 2005, 20:22 GMT 21:22 UK
Belgian priest faces Rwanda court
Guy Theunis at the 'gacaca' court in Rwanda
Father Theunis was detained while transiting through Rwanda
A Belgian Catholic priest has appeared before a Rwandan village court accused of helping incite the 1994 genocide.

Guy Theunis, 60, denied reproducing articles inciting killings in a Rwandan magazine he edited, saying many pieces in question were just press reviews.

He is the first foreigner to go before one of the "gacaca" courts set up to help investigate the genocide in which 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus died.

The gacaca referred him to face charges in a conventional court.

Belgian Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht expressed astonishment at Father Theunis' arrest and said he had asked for an explanation from Rwanda.

Former missionary

Father Theunis told the court in the Rugenge area: "I am astonished to hear all these allegations levelled against me. I sometimes wrote articles to press for human rights.

"I never republished articles from Kangura [an extremist publication], but just translated as part of a press review."

The higher, conventional court to which he has been referred can hand down the death penalty.

Rwandan prosecutor Emmanuel Rukangira told the BBC last week that Father Theunis was alleged to have incited Rwandans to commit genocide by republishing articles from Kangura in his Dialogue magazine.

Gacaca grassroots court in Rwanda's central Mayange region on 10/03/05
Hundreds of "gacaca" courts are being held across Rwanda

Former Kangura editor Hassan Ngeze has been sentenced to life in prison by the United Nations court set up to try those responsible for the genocide.

Father Theunis was detained at the airport in Rwanda's capital, Kigali, last Tuesday while on his way home to South Africa from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

He worked as a missionary in Rwanda, a former Belgian colony, from 1970 until 1994.

Some members of the Catholic hierarchy in Rwanda had close ties to extremist politicians and aided Hutu militias in the run-up to the 1994 killings.

Thousands of Tutsis were slaughtered after seeking sanctuary in churches.

In 2001, a Brussels court convicted two Rwandan Catholic nuns for their roles in the genocide.

In the 11 years since the genocide, some Rwandans have converted to Islam, saying the churches let them down.

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