|Africa||RWANDAN BISHOP PLEADS INNOCENT|
The first Catholic bishop ever to stand trial on charges of genocide pleaded innocent in a Rwandan courtroom yesterday, saying he - like Jesus - had been unjustly accused.
Bishop Augustin Misago, dressed in pink prison-issue shirt and shorts and a large silver cross dangling from a chain, said he was bearing the cross of an unjust fate. He rejected charges he helped plot the 1994 mass murder of Rwanda's Tutsis.
"The crime of genocide is so serious, no one should dare toy with it," Misago told the three-judge panel in an opening statement.
The bishop, who faces a mandatory death sentence if convicted, claims he is a scapegoat. He says the government is angry at the church for failing to deter attempts by the then-Hutu government to exterminate the country's minority Tutsis. At least 500,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed.
In his opening statement, the bishop also said he was innocent of allegations that he sent three priests and more than 10 schoolchildren to their deaths.
Prosecutors rejected Misago's claims.
The government believes the church was complicit, through its silence, in the 100-day slaughter. Many of the victims were hacked to death in Catholic churches, where they had sought refuge.
The trial continues today.
AP 11:06am 15/9/99