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Friday, May 15, 1998 Published at 21:58 GMT 22:58 UK

World: Africa

Rwanda genocide 'confessions'

Rwandans pass bundles containing unburied remains of those massacred during the genocide four years ago

The Rwandan authorities have announced that 2,000 prisoners awaiting trial on charges related to the 1994 genocide have pleaded guilty.

The accused, who made their confessions in a joint letter, are being held at Rilima prison, about 50 km south of the capital Kigali, where 22 convicts executed on genocide charges were briefly housed before being shot in public in April.

[ image: Some categories of Rwandan prisoners still face execution]
Some categories of Rwandan prisoners still face execution
The prisoners being targeted for confession are low-level offenders whose pleas contain details of how they were coerced or misled into acts of brutality.

Those who confessed will now be given reduced sentences, but the Rwandan government warned of more executions of those found guilty of the most serious crimes.

Dispensations are not available to category one offenders - those suspected of orchestrating massacres and fermenting the genocide.

Justice Ministry Secretary-General, Gerald Gahima: "The confession is a welcome development" (23")
An official in the justice ministry told the BBC that many suspects in other prisons had also confessed.

He said the confessions would promote reconciliation among genocide survivors who complain that the extent of 1994's killings is often denied.

At present there are over 120,000 genocide suspects in Rwanda's detention centres, and confessions speed up the judicial process.

The government has made it clear it wants to move as quickly as possible and securing public confessions from prisoners is a key element in the overall legal campaign.

With a shortage of trained lawyers and adequate court facilities, Rwanda's legal machinery is heavily over-stretched.

Trials at the current rate of process could go on well into the next century.

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