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Fate of Genocide Suspect Debated

February 17, 2000

ARUSHA, Tanzania (AP) _ The chief U.N. prosecutor in the Rwandan genocide trials has asked a panel of judges not to release a chief suspect despite arguments he has been held too long without being charged.

Prosecutor Carla del Ponte on Wednesday said Laurent Semanza’s request for release was groundless and reminded the court of the severity of his crimes during the 1994 genocide, the Swiss-based Hirondelle independent press agency reported.

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda is trying the planners and organizers of the Hutu government-orchestrated murder of more than 500,000 Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus.

The panel will hear arguments from del Ponte on Feb. 22 challenging their decision in November to release another genocide suspect, Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza, on the same grounds.

The Barayagwiza ruling outraged Rwanda, which suspended cooperation with the tribunal. Relations were only recently restored after del Ponte managed to secure the arrests of several Rwandan genocide suspects in Europe.

Del Ponte warned that a similar ruling on Semanza would discredit the court.

``Today, and next week in the case of Barayagwiza, you will be deciding on the existence of this tribunal,″ Hirondelle quoted her as saying.

Semanza is accused of helping organize and carry out the slaughter of Tutsis who sought shelter in two churches in Ruhanga and Musha, where human rights activists say at least 800 people were killed in a single day.

Semanza was arrested in Cameroon in March 1996. He was held until October 1997 before being charged and was then transferred to the U.N. tribunal in the northern Tanzanian town of Arusha. He has pleaded innocent to seven counts of genocide and crimes against humanity.

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