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Rwandan Ex-Mayor Denies Charges

April 27, 1999

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) _ A former Rwandan mayor on trial for war crimes denied charges including murder and incitement to murder, arguing Monday that he was the victim of a smear campaign.

Fulgence Niyonteze told a Swiss military court that he was in Paris when Rwanda’s genocide started in April 1994, and that by the time of his return in mid-May ``there wasn’t much I could do.″

Niyonteze, 34, was the mayor of Mushubati, in the Rwandan province of Gitarama, 30 miles southwest of the capital Kigali, during the central African nation’s genocide.

Prosecutors say he incited Hutu extremists to kill Tutsis and moderate Hutus and supplied them with weapons. Besides the murder charges, he is accused of breaches of the Geneva Convention.

More than 500,000 minority Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus were massacred in the Hutu government-orchestrated genocide, which ended when Tutsi-led rebels won power in July 1994.

Several witnesses have testified anonymously during the first two weeks of the trial. One man told the court he was beaten and left for dead and his brother murdered on Niyonteze’s orders. Others testified that Niyonteze said Hutu women who were pregnant by Tutsis should be killed.

Niyonteze said his major concern on returning to Mushubati was to ``limit the damage″ being caused by militiamen. The town already had been emptied of its Tutsi minority _ 12,000 people _ by the time he returned to Rwanda, he said.

He denied having incited Hutu extremists at a public meeting, and said the witness accounts were part of a campaign against him by Rwandan authorities. Niyonteze claimed he had called on the population to resist the extremists.

He is being tried in a Swiss court because he sought asylum here in 1994 before becoming a war crimes suspect, and the international tribunal on Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania has not requested his extradition.

The verdict is expected Friday. If found guilty, Niyonteze could face a life sentence.

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