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Thursday, November 11, 1999 Published at 11:41 GMT

World: Africa

Rwanda snubs tribunal prosecutor

Carla del Ponte: Planned to improve speed of prosecutions

Rwandan Justice Minister Jean de Dieu Mucyo has said he will not meet international war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte if she visits the country later this month.

Mr Mucyo said the refusal was a protest at decision of the War Crimes Tribunal for Rwanda to release genocide suspect Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza on procedural grounds - a move which was greeted with outrage in Rwanda.

Ms del Ponte was still free to visit Rwanda, Mr Mucyo said.

However, in a letter sent to the tribunal read out on Rwandan radio, Mr Mucyo said Ms del Ponte would not be welcome unless the tribunal reversed its decision and went ahead with Mr Barayagwiza's trial.

"The tribunal should reconsider its decision of releasing such people who are well known to have plunged the country into the bloodbath of 1994," Mr Mucyo wrote.

Appeal judges had ordered Mr Barayagwiza's release on the grounds that he had been held for too long without appearing in court .

Mr Mucyo described it as incomprehensible and an insult to Rwandans that Mr Barayagwiza should walk free.

'Speed up procedures'

Trying to assuage Rwanda's anger, Ms del Ponte promised earlier this week to travel to Kigali, win back the government's cooperation and improve the work of the tribunal, which the UN Security Council established five years ago to prosecute perpetrators of the genocide in Rwanda.

The Swiss prosecutor said she would also work to speed up procedures, following the delays which led eventually to Mr Barayagwiza being released.

Ms del Ponte said the court could not continue working without Rwanda's assistance.

Ms del Ponte, who has never visited Rwanda, has said she intends to stay in the country as long as necessary to discuss criticisms of her office.

Hate radio

Mr Barayagwiza was a senior figure in the foreign ministry during the genocide and is accused of direct involvement in mass killings.

He was also an official at the notorious Rwandan hate radio station, Mille Collines, which was blamed for helping to incite the genocide.

Around 800,000 minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered during the 1994 Rwandan massacre.

Rwanda is conducting its own genocide trials and has so far executed 22 people.

At least 125,000 people are jailed in Rwanda awaiting trial on a variety of charges ranging from orchestrating genocide to obeying orders to kill their neighbours.

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