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French court jails two Rwandan mayors for life over genocide

AFP | The Paris court convitced Tito Barahira and Octavien Ngenzi of crimes against humanity on July 6, 2016

In a landmark ruling, a Paris court jailed for life Wednesday two former Rwandan mayors accused of orchestrating the massacre of hundreds of Tutsis during the country's 1994 genocide.

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The court said Octavien Ngenzi, 58, and his predecessor Tito Barahira, 64, were guilty of "crimes against humanity", "massive and systematic summary executions" and "genocide" in their village of Kabarondo, where some 2,000 people seeking refuge in a church were bludgeoned and hacked to death.

Ngenzi and Barahira have consistently denied the charges. Both appeared impassive as the judge read out their sentences.

It was the stiffest genocide sentence ever handed out by a French court. In 2014, former Rwandan army captain Pascal Simbikangwa got 25 years in solitary confinement for genocide and crimes against humanity.

The eight-week trial has heard chilling testimony depicting the two men as "supervisors" and "executioners" in the massacre at the height of the genocide in which 800,000 people, mostly ethnic Tutsis, were killed by Hutu extremists.

"Ngenzi was the leader," said prosecutor Philippe Courroye, who requested life sentences for the two men. Barahira was the "dreaded machete officer," he added.

Ngenzi and Barahira's lawyers had pointed to contradictory testimony delivered 22 years after the killings to argue that reasonable doubt exists over their role, portraying them as having been helpless to stop the chaos unfolding around them.

'They continued with machetes'

One of their lawyers, Francoise Mathe, gave an emotional six-hour closing speech on Tuesday in which she said Ngenzi had done the best he could with "six police officers for 35,000 residents".

However a lawyer for the civil parties to the case, Gilles Paruelle, told the jury: "To kill one man, hatred is sufficient. To kill 1,000, you need organisation."

The violence broke out in Kabarondo a week after the shooting down of a plane carrying Rwanda's president Juvenal Habyarimana, which inflamed ethnic tensions and sparked the genocide.

Among those seeking shelter at the church on April 13, 1994, when the genocidal Hutu "Interahamwe" militia attacked, was Marie Mukamunana, who told the court how her seven children and husband were killed by grenades and machetes.

"Someone said 'don't waste the bullets' and they continued with machetes," she said.

She recalled seeing former mayor Barahira "armed with a gun, among the Interahamwe" and testified that Ngenzi was "supervising the massacre."

Jean-Damascene Rutagungira -- who lost 21 members of his family including his wife and children -- told the court he saw the pair encouraging the killers, shouting "cut them down."

The bloodshed in Kabarondo, a town near the border with Tanzania, was over by the end of April, when Tutsi rebels in the armed wing of what is now the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (FPR) took control of the area.

Elsewhere in the former Belgian colony, the slaughter continued until the FPR fighters finally prevailed in July.

(AFP)

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