U.N. court acquits two Rwandan ex-ministers of genocide

By Fumbuka Ng'wanakilala

DAR ES SALAAM, Feb 4 (Reuters) - Two former Rwandan ministers were freed from 30 year jail terms on Monday after their convictions for their role in the country's 100 days of genocidal slaughter in 1994 were overturned at appeal.

During the genocide, some 800,000 of the minority Tutsi ethnic group and moderate Hutus were butchered in systematic killings by extremist Hutus, tearing the country apart along its ethnic seams.

Justin Mugenzi and Prosper Mugiraneza had been convicted in September 2011 of conspiracy to commit genocide and direct and public incitement to commit genocide during and jailed for 30 years.

But the U.N. war crimes tribunal for Rwanda overturned the convictions on Monday after they appealed, and ordered their immediate release.

The two freed former ministers had been part of a case involving high-ranking officials, including the former health minister, Casimir Bizimungu, and former foreign minister Jerome-Clement Bicamumpaka, who were acquitted in 2011.

"The convictions were reversed because the ICTR Appeals Chamber believes strongly that there were errors in the trial chamber's assessment of the evidence," International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda spokesman Roland Amoussouga told Reuters by telephone from its base in the Tanzanian city of Arusha.

"The appeals chamber has acquitted the accused persons and ordered their immediate release."

There was no immediate reaction from Rwanda.

In December, another prominent former cabinet member, Augustin Ngirabatware, was sentenced to 35 years in jail by the Arusha tribunal for incitement and involvement in the genocide.

The court said that after the case against Ngirabatware, it had no more suspects on trial - though there are nine accused still at large - and was now only hearing appeals.

The court was established by the U.N. Security Council to prosecute suspects accused of genocide and serious violations of international humanitarian law in Rwanda in 1994. (Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Alison Williams)