Belgian priest 'ready to stand trial' in Rwanda genocide case

A Belgian priest arrested in Rwanda on genocide charges says he is innocent and ready to stand trial, but cautions that ethnic reconciliation in the central African nation is far from reality.

CLICK HEREReuters reports that Rwandan authorities arrested Catholic missionary Guy Theunis, 60, in September, and he has been in jail since, awaiting trial.

He is specifically accused of reprinting articles, in a Catholic review he published, from an extremist publication that incited Hutus to kill Tutsis during the 1994 slaughter.

"I do not see talk between Hutus and Tutsi and I get this from the prison. I do not see real reconciliation," Theunis told Reuters in an interview at the Rwandan prison where he is being held.

"Last year I went to Burundi and I saw soldiers from the two armies together and I saw that something was happening, which is not the case here," he said, referring to Rwanda's neighbor, which is seeing peace after decades of Hutu-Tutsi conflict.

Theunis, who worked in Rwanda as a member of the White Fathers from 1970 until 1994, is the first European arrested by Rwandan authorities for genocide. He is not, however, the first European charged in the killings.

The Belgian priest is also accused of masterminding killings in a church in the capital, Kigali. Thousands of Tutsis were slaughtered after seeking sanctuary in churches.

"I'm completely innocent," said Theunis. "I'm a man of God and would never have taken part in the killings here."

Human Rights Watch says Rwanda does not have the evidence to support the charges against Theunis.

Meanwhile Catholic News Service reports that the trial of a another priest accused of ordering his church destroyed to kill Tutsi refugees inside it during the genocide has resumed at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania.

The defence planned to argue that Fr Athanase Seromba was innocent of all charges against him. He is charged with genocide, complicity in genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide and crimes against humanity for his alleged actions in Kibuye, a province in western Rwanda.

Fr Seromba, who was the priest at Nyange Parish in Kibuye when the genocide began, is accused of conspiring with local authorities to have more than 2000 Tutsis killed within the church. He is alleged to have ordered all doors to the church blocked when the Interhamwe - or Hutu - militias and others attacked the Tutsis inside.

Fr Seromba is also accused of ordering his church destroyed by a bulldozer in order to kill the remaining Tutsi refugees inside. After the genocide, Fr Seromba fled Rwanda and eventually ended up working for the church in Italy under an alias. He surrendered to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in 2002.

Belgian priest says innocent in Rwanda genocide case (Reuters 29/10/05)
In Tanzania, trial resumes for priest accused in Rwandan genocide (Zenit 31/10/05)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers)
International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda

Both Vatican and Human Rights Watch troubled by Rwanda priest charges (CathNews 15/9/05)

Rwanda, Belgium agree to transfer priest's case to Brussels (The Universe 31/10/05)
Fr Theunis: transfer to Belgium process moving along (Missionary Service News Agency 27/10/05)
Supporters say Belgian priest held in Rwanda defended human rights (The Universe 25/10/05)
Fr. Theunis: New developments on possible transferral to Belgium (Missionary Service News Agency 18/10/05)
Film Planned on Rwanda Pilgrim-Site (Zenit 6/10/05)
Rwanda may allow accused priest to leave (Monsters and Critics/United Press International 6/10/05)
Rwanda will allow accused priest to face trial in Belgium (Catholic World News 6/10/05)

2 Nov 2005