UN tribunal begins Rwanda genocide trial

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The first people to be charged with involvement in the 1994 Rwandan genocide appeared before an international tribunal in the north Tanzanian town of Arusha yesterday. Two years after allegedly playing leading roles in the killing of up to 1 million minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus, two men sat before a judge and jury as charges against them were read out. A third is to appear in court today. All three were extradited from Zambia.

Georges Rutaganda, 37, an agricultural engineer and businessman in central Rwanda at the time of the genocide, pleaded not guilty to eight counts of genocide and crimes against humanity. His indictment says he helped to kill a large number of Tutsis while men under his control also butchered members of Rwanda's ethnic minority.

A shareholder in a radio station which helped fuel the genocide, Mr Rutaganda was also a leading light in the Interahamwe (Those who fight together) militia that was at the forefront of the genocide.

His trial was adjourned to October after his Belgian lawyer said he had to visit Rwanda to gather more evidence. Jean Paul Akayesu, who was chief authority in a district where at least 2,000 Tutsis were murdered, has also pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.

The indictment against him says he not only failed to speak out against the bloodshed but ordered and participated in many killings.

The United Nations International Tribunal for Rwanda has been criticised, particularly by the Rwandan government, for being too slow. It has suffered from a lack of funding, a shortage of criminal investigators and poor co-operation from countries where suspects have sought refuge.

It has indicted only 10 suspects, mainly middle-ranking former officials. More than 70,000 Hutus accused of involvement in the 1994 genocide are languishing in overcrowded jails in Rwanda.