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Tuesday, 19 September, 2000, 15:23 GMT 16:23 UK
Blow for Rwandan journalists
The exact death toll is still unknown
A United Nations court hearing the case of three Rwandans accused of inciting the 1994 genocide has rejected a defence motion to disqualify two of the judges.

Defence lawyers had argued that the two, who include the presiding judge, Navanethem Pillay, would be biased because they had overseen a previous trial involving one of the prosecution witnesses.

The trial of two journalists and a prominent official began on Monday.

Deep seated ethnic tensions led to the deaths of at least 800,000 people in Rwanda in a 100-day orgy of killing and violence.

Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza, Hassan Ngeze and Ferdinand Nahimana, face charges of conspiracy, incitement to commit genocide and crimes against humanity.

They were playing very nice music; (but) putting in some nasty messages

Rwanda's media played a large part in the massacres, preaching hatred towards Rwanda's minority Tutsi population, and exhorting the Hutu population to kill them.

Mr Barayagwiza was a prominent government official, Hassan Ngeze edited a Hutu extremist newspaper, and Mr Nahimana was the director of the "hate radio" station, Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM).

'Hate radio'

However, according to Laurent Ndayuhurume, editor of the BBC's Great Lakes Lifeline, the exact role each man played is still being debated.

Rwandan refugees
Millions fled the violence
"Many people say he (Hassan Ngeze) was a journalist, but when you go through how he behaved, we don't know if he was a journalist, a specialist who gossips or an intermediary of the politicians in Kigali," he says.

The other two were main shareholders at RTLM, which became know as 'hate radio' during the time of the killings.

"They were playing very nice music; young people were listening to them, and in the meantime, they were putting in some nasty messages," Laurent Ndayuhurume says.

At the height of the killings, the station played an important role in helping Hutu militias track down leading Tutsis in hiding by asking the audience to help them track people down.

The response to these 'phone-ins' was so effective that often their targets would be found and killed within a few hours.

Legal wrangling

The trial, due to open at the International Criminal Court for Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania, has already been delayed due to legal wrangling.

And lawyers for Mr Barayagwiza are also contesting the court's decision to try the three men together.

About 3,000 suspects have been tried in Rwanda since 1996, with as many as 400 being sentenced to death.

Bishop Augustine Misago
Bishop Misago: Cleared of genocide
The most high-profile figure yet to have been convicted is Rwanda's former Prime Minister Jean Kambanda, who was found guilty of involvement in the genocide in 1998.

However, Rwanda's highest-ranking catholic cleric, Bishop Augustine Misago, was recently acquitted of involvement in the killings, and returned to Rwanda on Sunday.

Despite many hundreds of thousands of other suspects being arrested, a report by the Organisation of African Unity estimates it will take hundreds of years to try them at the current rate of prosecutions.

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See also:

17 Jul 00 | Africa
Rwanda counts its dead
05 Jul 00 | Africa
UN general's Rwandan nightmares
11 Jan 00 | Africa
Rwandans to sue UN
07 Jul 00 | Africa
OAU seeks Rwanda compensation
17 Dec 99 | Africa
UN should make amends - Rwanda
16 Dec 99 | Africa
UN admits failure in Rwanda
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