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Priest accused in 1994 Rwanda genocide fails to front for trial

A priest accused of ordering the slaughter of 2000 people who sought refuge in his church during Rwanda's genocide refused to appear for the start of his trial at a UN tribunal yesterday.

Fr Athanase Seromba is the first priest to be tried for the 1994 genocide, in which at least 500,000 minority Tutsis and political moderates from the Hutu majority were killed.

During an initial appearance last year, Seromba pleaded not guilty to charges of genocide, complicity in genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide and crimes against humanity related to the 100-day slaughter orchestrated by the extremist Hutu government then in power.

Seromba refused to show up yesterday in protest over UN plans to transfer the trials of some genocide suspects to Rwanda. The tribunal does not force defendants to appear.

The transfers are meant to help ease the load on the Tanzania-based tribunal, which is trying to meet a UN Security Council deadline to complete investigations by the end of 2004, end trials by 2008 and close down by the end of 2010.

Seromba's trial began in his absence after prosecutors argued it would not violate the priest's rights as long as his lawyers were present.

Prosecutors say Seromba - then parish priest in Nyange, in Rwanda's eastern Kibuye Province - organized the slaughter of 2000 people who fled to the church to escape killings by the extremist Interahamwe militia, the army and neighbours.

A number of Hutu church leaders are alleged to have played significant roles in the genocide, with bishops, priests and nuns splitting along ethnic lines as in the rest of the country. Thousands of Rwandans were massacred in churches during the slaughter. Seromba is the third member of the clergy to appear at the tribunal.

Catholic priest accused in 1994 Rwandan genocide fails to show up for trial (Canadian Press/Associated Press 20/9/04)

Rwandan priest to be tried for genocide (Independent Catholic News 20/9/04)
Priest's genocide trial opens (The Australian 21/9/04)
Genocide Trial Begins Of Rwandan Roman Catholic Priest (AFP/Turkish Press 20/9/04)

21 Sep 2004