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Rwanda General Pleads Not Guilty to Involvement in Genocide - 2002-08-21

The man who headed Rwanda's armed forces during the 1994 genocide today pleaded not guilty before a United Nations tribunal, to charges of involvement in the killings. General Augustin Bizimungu faces 10 counts of genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide and crimes against humanity.

As many as 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in Rwanda before the Rwandan Patriotic Front, or RPF seized power.

Kingsley Moghalu, spokesman for the Tribunal, says General Bizimungu is alleged to have threatened to wipe out every single Tutsi in Rwanda.

"He is alleged specifically to have been very active in the distribution of weapons to the militias that carried out the genocide," he said. "He's believed to have made statements that showed clear intent to commit genocide, such as saying that if the RPF attacks again he'll make sure that not one Tutsi survives. And there are also other allegations against him. Of course, he's held responsible for crimes committed by his subordinates, including rape, and some persecution, murder."

General Bizimungu, who was arrested in Angola last week, is being tried jointly with four other senior military men, accused of committing similar crimes. A date has not yet been set for the trial.

Mr. Moghalu says he hopes their case will come to court within the next few months.

"I think a date will have to be set for his trial later on, taking into consideration, that all the trial chambers are now very busy with cases and we don't have new judges yet," he said. "But the Security Council has approved them. But a couple of cases are finishing up so I think that case, in the next few months it should be able to come to trial."

The Tribunal, based in the Tanzanian town of Arusha, has been widely criticized for taking too long to hear cases. It has handed down eight convictions and one acquittal since it began work in 1995.

Earlier this month, the United Nations Security Council decided to elect a pool of an additional 18 judges to help the Tribunal speed up its work. Mr. Moghalu says four of the new judges are expected to be on the ground by the end of the year.

Trials are in progress for 22 of the 52 detainees currently in the tribunal's detention facility.