UN court convicts colonel for Rwanda genocide

A UN court sentenced a former army colonel accused of masterminding Rwanda's genocide in 1994 to life in prison today.

The Arusha-based International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) had accused Theoneste Bagosora, 67, of being in charge of the troops and Interahamwe Hutu militia who butchered 800,000 minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 100 days.

"Colonel Bagosora is guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity and war crimes," the court said.

Prosecutors said Bagosora, then cabinet director in the Defence Ministry, assumed control of military and political affairs in the central African country when President Juvenal Habyarimana's plane was shot down.

Canadian General Romeo Dallaire, head of United Nations peacekeepers during the genocide, described Bagosora as the "kingpin" behind the genocide and said the colonel had threatened to kill him with a pistol.

In its indictment, the ICTR said that before the killings, Bagosora stormed out of peace talks in Tanzania saying he was returning to Rwanda to "prepare the apocalypse".

After the genocide, Bagosora fled into exile in Cameroon. He was arrested there in 1996 and flown to face trial in 1997. His trial began in 2002 and lasted five years until mid-2007.

Bagosora faced 11 charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Fellow former officers Anatole Nsengiyumva and Aloys Ntabakuze were also sentenced to life, although Gratien Kabiligi was acquitted of all charges.

The court also today sentenced businessman and Habyarimana's brother-in-law Protais Zigiranyirazo, known as "Monsieur Z", to 20 years in prison for genocide and extermination as a crime against humanity.

"The chamber has found Zigiranyirazo guilty of having participated in a joint criminal enterprise with the common purpose of committing genocide and extermination, as well as aiding and abetting genocide," the ruling said.

Zigiranyirazo, 70, was accused of being a member of the Akazu, the small yet powerful ruling elite of Hutu family members and relatives who are believed to have plotted to exterminate the minority Tutsis.

He is accused of being a member of the notorious Zero Network of death squads which killed hundreds of Tutsis and opposition leaders in the years leading up to the genocide.

In their indictment, prosecutors said Zigiranyirazo ordered or authorised roadblocks to be set up near his three residences and paid militia to dig a mass grave outside his compound to bury those killed.

The court also accused Zigiranyirazo of arming, training and clothing the Interahamwe militia who conducted most of the slaughter and arming the local population in Gisenyi.

The court began its work in 1997. It has until the end of the year to wind up its activities and until 2010 to hear all appeals. The UN General Assembly is discussing whether to extend the court's mandate.