Rwandan singer on genocide charge

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A Rwandan musician who sang anti-Tutsi songs during the 1994 genocide is to go on trial charged with inciting his fellow Hutus to commit mass murder.

In the landmark trial that starts today at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), Simon Bikindi, a renowned traditional composer and musician, will face six counts, including genocide. Prosecutors claim hislyrics encouraged Hutus to slaughter the minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

Mr Bikindi, who denies the charges, founded the Irindiro Ballet, a singing and dancing ensemble which was popular in Rwanda in the 1980s and early 1990s. He was the most famous musician in the small, central African country at the time of the genocide.

Prosecutors at the UN-backed court set up to try the major instigators of the genocide claim Mr Bikindi's music was used to incite hatred of Tutsis and those Hutus who did not agree with the genocide.

"Between 1990 and 1994, Simon Bikindi composed, sang, recorded or distributed musical works extolling Hutu solidarity and accusing Tutsis of enslaving Hutus," the indictment says. "These songs were then used to incite Hutus to identify and kill Tutsis."

Mr Bikindi was one of the founders of RTLM, a radio station which pumped out propaganda encouraging Hutus to kill Tutsis. One of his songsplayed on RTLM was "Nanga Abahutu", Kinyarwandan for "I hate the Hutus". Prosecutors claim this song targeted Hutus who joined the Tutsi rebellion against the extremists. "I hate these Hutus, these un-Hutus who gave up their identities, dear comrades," the lyrics say.

His lawyer, Wilfred Nderitu, said: "Bikindi's songs are innocent. To accuse him is to deny him his right of expression."

Mr Bikindi is also accused of taking part in the planning of the genocide - militarising the Hutu militias who carried out much of the killing and indoctrinating them with anti-Tutsi sentiments.At a meeting of the Hutu political party, the MRND, Mr Bikindi allegedly told his audience: "Hutus should hunt and search for the Tutsis and kill them."

More than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were massacred in three months in 1994. The UN court in the Tanzanian town of Arusha has convicted just 25 people of genocide since it was established in 1994.