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Ex-Rwandan Mayor Denies Massacres

February 17, 1998

ARUSHA, Tanzania (AP) _ A former Rwandan Hutu mayor has pleaded innocent to charges that he helped carry out two massacres during the 1994 slaughter of minority Tutsis.

Laurent Semanza, a Hutu businessman who was arrested in Cameroon and transferred to Arusha, northern Tanzania, in November, entered the plea Monday during initial appearance before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, court officials said today.

Two more genocide suspects _ former army commanders Brig.-Gen. Gratien Kabiligi and Maj. Aloys Ntabakuze _ will be asked to enter their pleas later today.

Out of the 35 indicted by the U.N. genocide tribunal, only 23 people are in U.N. custody in Arusha. The trials of three have begun, expected to finish later this year. The gravest penalty the tribunal can impose is life in prison.

Semanza, 54, is charged with seven counts of genocide and crimes against humanity. As a mayor of Bicumi district and a member of parliament, he is alleged to have organized and executed the massacres of Tutsis who sought shelter in two churches in Ruhanga and Musha.

More than 500,000 minority Tutsis were killed in a genocide orchestrated by the extremist Hutu government from April to July 1994. The killings ended when the Tutsi rebels took power in Rwanda.

In the Musha church massacre, human rights activists say between 800 and 1,000 Tutsis were hacked to death on Apr. 13, 1994, by Hutu militiamen.

Rwanda has criticized the slow-paced tribunal and has opened its own trials. Since January last year, Rwandan courts have tried more than 350 people, handing out death sentences to about one-third of those convicted.

No executions have been carried out, and some 120,000 suspects are in prison awaiting trial.

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