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Rwandan Tribunal Charges Ex-military Officer Over Genocide

FILE - Skulls and bones of some of those killed in Rwanda's genocide are seen at a memorial shrine at a Catholic church in Ntarama, Rwanda, April 4, 2014.

A Rwandan military tribunal began hearings on Thursday against a former army officer deported from Canada last month to face charges over Rwanda's 1994 genocide.

Jean Claude Seyoboka is accused of genocide, planning genocide, and murder and rape as crimes against humanity.

He was a second lieutenant in the army when unknown gunmen shot down a plane carrying the then-presidents of Rwanda and Burundi, triggering an uprising by militias from the majority Hutu ethnic group. The militias killed about 800,000 Tutsis and Hutu moderates.

The military prosecution told the court that Seyoboka, who was deported from Canada on November 18, trained the Interahamwe militia and killed Tutsi in several parts of the capital, Kigali.

"Another witness told us that they saw him with in one hand with a gun and in another hand with clubs. Imagine a soldier who should be assuming the role of securing the population and instead he kills them," prosecutor Capt. Kagiraneza Kayihura told the court.

Seyoboka is also accused of leading an attack that killed two politicians, Theoneste Gafaranga and Andre Kameya, who opposed the genocide.

Seyoboka appeared in court in the green uniform assigned to Rwandan military prisoners. He pleaded not guilty, saying he was a simple soldier commanded to fight a rebel group. The rebels, led by current President Paul Kagame, eventually took control of Rwanda and ended the genocide.

"Is it criminal (for a soldier) to fight a war?" Seyoboka asked the court.

Rwanda says it has issued over 600 arrest warrants globally for genocide suspects still at large.