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Vatican 'saves priest' from genocide trial

Italy has chosen not to hand over to the international war crimes tribunal a Rwandan Catholic priest wanted on genocide charges.

Fr Athanase Seromba is accused of ordering his own church to be bulldozed, crushing and killing up to 2500 parishioners.

Italian judicial authorities say that an ad hoc decree is required for them to cooperate with the United Nations tribunal for Rwanda. Sources of The Sunday Times claim the true reason for Italy's stalling is discreet pressure from the Vatican.

A Hutu, Seromba had allegedly sided in 1994 with a campaign to exterminate Rwanda's Tutsi minority. The destruction of his church at Nyange on April 16, 1994, was one of the most notorious massacres of the genocide in which 800,000 died. Seromba travelled afterwards to Florence with the help of supporters in the Catholic church. He rejoined the priesthood under an assumed name. In November 1999 The Sunday Times found he had established a new life for himself as a deputy priest at a church in Florence under the name of Don Anastasio Sumba Bura.

"Everyone has a positive impression of him," said Riccardo Bigi, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Florence. "He's definitely not willing to talk about Rwanda, but that is understandable because he suffered a great deal. From what we know of him, it's highly improbable that the accusations against him are true."

"I had nothing to do with the Nyange massacre," Fr Seromba told reporters in Florence on Saturday. "Leave me in peace, I don't want to talk."

Sunday Times