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A. Des Forges in Arusha

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Alison Des Forges de Human Rights Watch-Africa
adesforges.gif
(Photo PBS.org)

'Habyarimana Knew of Genocide Plan,' Expert Witness Claims

   Alison Des Forges of the United States, the first expert witness in
the so-called "Military Trial," today testified before the International
Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) that President Juvenal Habyarimana, whose
death on 6 April 1994 sparked violence in Rwanda, knew of a "Self-Defense" plan
that later turned into genocide.
   "Habyarimana knew of the [self-defense] plan and there is a document
indicating the distribution of responsibilities some of the responsibilities are
assigned to the office of the president," Des Forges told the court, adding that
the plan involved the training and arming of militia groups and other civilians
to fight the "enemy," identified as the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) and
its accomplices.
   The prosecution witness is testifying against four former senior
Rwandan military officers who allegedly masterminded the April- June 1994
genocide that claimed more than 800,000 lives. The four are: Colonel Theoneste
Bagosora, 61, Col. Anatole Nsengiyumva, 52, Brigadier-General Gratien Kabiligi, 51,
and Major Aloys Ntabakuze, 48. All four have denied charges of genocide and crimes
against humanity, crimes they allegedly committed in 1994 in Rwanda.
   Under cross-examination by Raphael Constant of Martinique/France,
lead counsel for Bagosora, Des Forges told the court that Habyrarimana
alluded to the 'Self-Defense' plan during a meeting in February 1994 with gendamerie
(para- military police) officers. The officers had asked him to confirm the
existence of a self-defense plan in which civilians were being trained and armed,
Habyarimana allegedly asked the minister of defense: "Shall we tell
them?" And the minister responded that they would have to first consult the army
chief of staff. "The gendarmerie officers left without knowing who between the
chief of
staff and the minister of defense would confirm the existence of the
plan," the witness stated.
   The witness cited a visit by General Romeo Dallaire, head of the
United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR) to a military unit in
Mutara Province, northeastern Rwanda in January 1994, as an incident showing
that the military was involved in militia training. She said that Dallaire found
"a group of youth in civilian clothes, two government buses hidden in a nearby
bush and an atmosphere of embarrassment by the unit's military officials."
   Des Forges, who began testifying on 5 September, is a senior advisor
in the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch, an international human rights
organization. She is an historian specializing in Rwanda and the Great
Lakes region. Des Forges is the author of a Human Rights Watch publication,
'Leave None to Tell the Story', which details the alleged causes and extent of
the Rwandan genocide.
   During today's proceedings, Constant challenged Des Forges' testimony
that the military was involved in the arming and training of civilian militia
as part of the 'Self-Defense' program that was later implemented after
Habyarimana's death on 6 April 1994.
   Unknown assailants shot down Habyarimana's plane as it approached the
capital Kigali, killing Habyarimana, Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira and
other Rwandan government officials on board.
   When asked to comment about shooting down of the plane, Des Forges
answered that she has not conducted any investigations into the incident, but
added that  a judicial inquiry into the crash is underway and that she is awaiting
its results eagerly.
   However, Constant reminded the expert that during hearings in an
immigration case for Leon Mugesera in Canada, she testified that ethnic Hutu
extremists could have shot down the plane in order to implement the Self-Defense
program and then blame it on the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), which was then
fighting the government's forces.
   Des Forges explained that the location of the ground-to-air missile
that was used to shoot down the plane was at near the Kanombe Airport in Kigali,
a section that was under government forces then. She maintained that she
couldn't speculate about the identity of those who shot down the plane.
   Constant also challenged Des Forges' claim that Bagosora harbored the
ambition of becoming head of state, long before Habyarimana's death. Des
Forges maintains that observers of the political situation in Rwanda then
believed that Habyarimana feared that Bagosora could wrest power from him.
   During her examination in chief, Des Forges also testified on the
alleged role of the other Military Trial defendants; she said that Nsengiyumva
drafted a letter to the president, defining the country's "enemy." According to
the witness, ethnic Tutsi were identified as the enemy.
   According to the prosecution, Bagosora assumed 'de facto' of military
and political affairs in Rwanda after 6 April 1994. He served as director of
cabinet in the ministry of defense during the violence. He was arrested on 9
March 1996 in Cameroon and transferred to the United Nations Detention Facility
(UNDF) in Arusha on 23 January 1997.
   Nsengiyumva was chief of military intelligence and commander of
military operations in Gisenyi Province between 1993 and 1994. Kabiligi served as
chief of military operations in the Rwandan army during the genocide.
Ntabakuze was commander of the para-commando battalion of the Rwandan army in 1994.
   Jean Degli of Togo/France represents Kabiligi; Andre Tremblay of Canada
represents Ntabakuze; and, Kenyans Kennedy Ogetto and Otachi Bw'Omanwa
represent Nsengiyumva.
   The cross-examination of Des Forges continues before Trial Chamber
III of the ICTR, comprising Judges Lloyd Williams of St Kitts and Nevis, Pavel
Dolenc of  Slovenia and Andresia Vaz of Senegal.
Copyright 2002 Africa News Service, Inc. Africa News. September 25, 2002 Wednesday