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Tuesday, September 14, 1999 Published at 16:43 GMT 17:43 UK

World: Africa

Rwandan bishop in the dock

Bishop Misago (centre) says he is the victim of a political conspiracy

By Chris Simpson in Kigali

The trial has begun of a Catholic bishop accused of involvement in the genocide of 1994 in Rwanda.

Bishop Augustin Misago, who represents the south-western diocese of Gikongoro, has been identified by the Rwandan state as a category one genocide offender who could face the death penalty if convicted.

But both Bishop Misago and the Vatican have described the trial as a political gesture by the Rwandan Government, which they accuse of wanting to humiliate the Catholic church.

The bishop himself remains adamant that correct legal procedures have not been followed and he should not be in court.

'Smear campaign'

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In pleading not guilty to charges of genocide, Bishop Misago talked at length about the circumstances surrounding his arrest.

He argued that he had always been honest about his actions during the time of the genocide and said he had been the victim of a smear campaign initiated by Rwanda's President, Pasteur Bizimungu.

But the trial judges made it clear that the bishop had to answer the accusations against him, while the state prosecutor's office emphasised that Bishop Misago was being tried as an individual and not as a representative of the Catholic Church.

First accusation

The first accusation from the prosecution concerned the fate of three Tutsi priests who sought refuge at the bishopric in Gikongoro.

After several days at the bishopric, the priests were removed by police and subsequently murdered in prison.

Bishop Misago said he had done everything in his power to protect them, but had been unable to stop them being taken away when the police arrived with individual arrest warrants.

But lawyers for the prosecution accused the bishop of betraying the priests and failing to make any inquiries about their welfare once they had been removed from his care.

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