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Former Rwanda General Turned Over to War Crimes Tribunal in Arusha - 2002-08-15

One of the top suspects in Rwanda's 1994 genocide, General Augustin Bizimungu, was transferred to the International Criminal Tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania Thursday. He is expected to make his plea of guilty or not guilty in the next few days.

Augustin Bizimungu is among eight leading suspects wanted by the tribunal to face charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.

Tribunal spokesman Kingsley Moghalu says General Bizimungu arrived at the tribunal at one o'clock Thursday morning. "He has been transferred to Arusha this morning. He's in the United Nations detention facility as we speak," he said. "We are now in the process of arranging what we call duty counsel for him until the question of a permanent lawyer for him is sorted out. In a few days he will enter what we call an initial appearance and enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. After that we will proceed to trial at a date to be set by the judges."

The arrest of General Bizimungu is a major breakthrough for the international court.

During the Rwandan genocide, General Bizimungu headed the Rwandan Armed Forces, which worked closely with the Interahamwe militia that carried out much of the killing.

Some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed during the three-month bloodbath in Rwanda in 1994.

On Wednesday, Rwanda's government called for General Bizimungu to be extradited to Rwanda for trial. It said this would have a much greater impact on the Rwandan people and contribute more to reconciliation in the country than to conduct the trial in Arusha, Tanzania, where the tribunal is headquartered.

Mr. Moghalu of the tribunal said Rwanda does not have the facilities to host such a trial. "There are many logistical factors," he explained. "Security is an issue. The views of the defense [are] also an issue.... It may not be a good enough substitute, but what we have is an outreach program to Rwanda, and we have radio relays of trials here to Rwanda by radio. People there follow very important trials here and judgments. That's been quite effective," he said.

The tribunal has drawn much criticism from the Rwandan government and genocide survivors for the slow pace suspects are brought to trial.

The United Nation's chief war crimes prosecutor for Rwanda, Carla del Ponte, has accused the Rwandan government of blocking progress of the tribunal to keep it from investigating allegations of war crimes by its own army.

General Bizimungu was found in Angola, in an area quartering former soldiers of the Angolan rebel movement UNITA.