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Nuns being tried for complicity in Rwandan genocide

Two Benedictine nuns are among four Rwandans who went on trial yesterday in Belgium charged with taking part in the 1994 massacre of at least half a million people in Rwanda.

It is the first time a civil court outside Rwanda has tried suspects of the genocide.

The trial, which is expected to last up to six weeks, is focusing on the killing of thousands of ethnic Tutsis hiding at a convent and health centre near the southern town of Butare in late April 1994. Consolata Mukangango, or Sister Gertrude, and Julienne Mukabutera, known as Sister Julienne Kisito, are suspected of having forced people to leave the convent, knowing they would be massacred.

The other defendants are Vincent Ntezimana, a university professor, and Alphonse Higaniro, a former government minister and member of the inner circle of the late Rwandan President, Juvenal Habyarimana.

A 1993 law allows Belgian courts to hear cases of alleged human rights abuses against people living in Belgium, regardless of where the crimes were committed, the nationality of the victim or the nationality of the accused.

More than 170 witnesses are to be heard, including 50 from Rwanda, who will be flown to Belgium - Rwanda's former colonial ruler.