Military shambles

07 February 2005 by our correspondent

Over the last few years, speed and firmness have been the official watchwords at hearings before the Arusha Tribunal. Yet, both are sorely lacking in Military II trial which involves the former chief of staff of the army, General Augustin Bizimungu, the former chief of staff of the gendarmerie, General Augustin Ndindiliyimana, the former commander of the reconnaissance battalion Major François-Xavier Nzuwonemeye, and his second in command, Captain Innocent Sagahutu.

On 13 January the Sri Lankan presiding judge, who is gradually losing his grip on the trial, declared: "This is a notice to both parties: you must allow me to do my job". The tension between defence lawyers and prosecutors is palpable; all speak at the same time and the interpreters have trouble keeping up. The atmosphere has been strained since the hearings opened in early September.

Over the last couple of days, a former soldier with the reconnaissance battalion has been testifying against them. Both parties have raised countless objections before a chamber that seems increasingly resigned to losing control over the proceedings. After some difficulty, the witness finally managed to complete the prosecutor's round of questioning. His accusations were largely directed against his former commander, Nzuwonemeye, who, only minutes after the attack on the presidential airplane on the evening of 6 April 1994, allegedly told his men at the Kigali camp "that the prime minister should be held accountable for the accident". The prime minister was murdered the next morning.

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