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Ex-UN Commander To Testify in Rwanda

February 23, 1998

ARUSHA, Tanzania (AP) _ A former commander of U.N. peacekeepers in Rwanda, whose warnings of an impending 1994 slaughter were ignored by his superiors, is testifying publicly for the first time at a genocide trial.

Gen. Romeo Dallaire of Canada has been called by defense attorneys representing Jean-Paul Akayesu, who is accused of genocide. The lawyers say Dallaire’s testimony today will ``be of capital importance″ to Akayesu’s case, but so far it is not clear why.

Dallaire commanded the U.N. Assistance Mission in Rwanda, which remained in the tiny central African nation throughout the genocide.

Akayesu, 44, former mayor of central Rwanda’s Taba, is charged in connection with the deaths of at least 2,000 Tutsis in a 100-day slaughter. He has pleaded innocent to 12 charges of genocide, crimes against humanity, murder and torture.

His trial, now in its second year, is the first before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, which has been beset by delays and allegations of mismanagement and corruption.

In January, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan authorized Dallaire to testify before the tribunal, but the United Nations has made it clear it does not want a trial of the U.N. mission in Rwanda, nor of the foreign governments involved.

The United Nations previously refused to allow Dallaire to appear before a Belgian legislative inquiry into the deaths of 10 Belgian peacekeepers under his command.

Months before the slaughter began on April 6, 1994, Dallaire warned the United Nations that radical Hutus were planning to massacre Tutsis and sought to raid a Hutu militia arms cache. He was overruled by U.N. chiefs, including Annan, who then was head of U.N. peacekeeping operations.

In a message to his superiors dated Jan. 11, 1994, Dallaire said an informant, a top-level member of the ruling party’s militia, the Interahamwe, had been ordered to register all Tutsis in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital.

``He suspects it is for their extermination,″ Dallaire wrote, according to the Belgian investigation.

In less than three months, Hutu troops, militias and civilians launched a genocidal campaign that killed more than 500,000 people, mainly minority Tutsis, and forced more than a million refugees to flee to surrounding nations.

Akayesu is among the three genocide suspects on trial. Out of 35 indicted, 23 are in U.N. custody in Arusha. If convicted, they face a maximum penalty of life in prison.

Rwanda, where the Tutsi rebels won power in 1994 and ended the genocide, has criticized the slow-paced tribunal and has opened its own trials. Since January 1997, Rwandan courts have tried more than 350 people, handing out death sentences to about one-third of those convicted.

About 120,000 suspects are in prison awaiting trial.

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