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France orders first trial of Rwandan for genocide

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

A French court has for the first time ordered a Rwandan to face trial over the country's 1994 genocide that saw some 800,000 people killed, a judicial source told AFP on Tuesday.

Pascal Simbikangwa, a former Rwandan army captain arrested on the French island of Mayotte in 2008, is facing charges of complicity in genocide and crimes against humanity.

His lawyers refused to comment on the case when contacted by AFP, and it was not immediately clear whether they would appeal the ruling in a bid to avoid trial. They have 10 days to do so.

A former intelligence officer under Rwanda's Hutu government, Simbikangwa was arrested under an international arrest warrant for his alleged involvement in the genocide, which killed mostly ethnic Tutsis over three months.

France set up a new unit in early 2010 to try cases of genocide and crimes against humanity involving suspects detained in France.

Two investigating magistrates from the unit ordered the trial on Friday following a request from prosecutors in early March.

France has repeatedly refused to extradite genocide suspects to Rwanda, fearing they would be denied a fair trial, but has sent some to Tanzania to face trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

Simbikangwa, born in 1959, is accused of being a member of the Akazu, an informal organisation of Hutu extremists believed to have planned and implemented the genocide.

A former member of Rwanda's presidential guard, Simbikangwa is accused of having armed the Interahamwe Hutu militia and encouraged them to massacre minority Tutsis. He is a paraplegic following a traffic accident in 1986.

During his career, Simbikangwa was very close to the clan of President Juvenal Habyarimana, whose murder in 1994 in undetermined circumstances triggered the genocide.

He also held shares in Rwandan radio station RTLM, which repeatedly called for the extermination of Tutsis.

Simbikangwa is facing trial in France following a complaint filed by the Collective of Civil Plaintiffs for Rwanda -- known by its French acronym CPCR -- which on Tuesday hailed a "historic moment".

Alain Bernard Mukuralinda, spokesman for Rwanda's national prosecution authority, also welcomed the move.

"It's a feeling of satisfaction that things are starting to move in France," he said.

"There will no longer be this feeling of misunderstanding and suspicion between Rwandan and French justice."

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130402/france-orders-first-trial-rwandan-genocide