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Former Rwandan Government Ministers on Trial for War Crimes - 2003-11-06

Four former Rwandan government ministers are on trial at a U.N. war crimes tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania, charged with masterminding the 1994 genocide.

The spokesman for the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, Roland Amoussouga, says this is the first time ministers from the former government are having their cases heard as a group. Other ministers are or have been tried separately.

The four ministers are charged with nine counts each of genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, public incitement to commit genocide, and other genocide-related charges, plus a charge of crimes against humanity.

The four men, who were part of Rwanda's interim government, have denied the charges.

Mr. Amoussouga says the prosecutors will try to prove the defendants conspired to carry out the genocide.

"They [prosecutors] are trying to establish that there was wide conspiracy to commit genocide and they promised to show evidence that will enable the court to find them guilty," he explained.

The accused are former health minister Casimir Bizimungu, foreign minister Jerome Bicamumpaka, trade minister Justin Mugenzi and civil service minister Prosper Mugiraneza.

Mr. Amoussouga says Thursday's trial is an important milestone for the victims of Rwanda's 1994 genocide, in which Hutu extremists killed more than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

"They have waited for this day to see justice being done," he said. "Clearly, as you know, justice is such an important component to achieve peace."

Mr. Amoussouga says the tribunal has so far arrested 12 out of 19 ministers of the former government on genocide-related charges. A second trial of four more ministers is set for November 26.

The tribunal, which as set up in 1994, has been criticized for being too slow to bring alleged perpetrators to trial.