Alleged killers of albinos on trial in Burundi

Thu May 28, 2009 1:15pm EDT

* Prosecutors present human bones as evidence

* More than 50 killed in Burundi and Tanzania



By Patrick Nduwimana

RUYIGI, Burundi (Reuters) - Prosecutors in Burundi on Thursday asked for life sentences for three people on trial for allegedly murdering albinos to sell their body parts for use in witchcraft.

More than 50 albinos -- lacking pigment in their skins, eyes and hair -- have been murdered in Burundi and neighbouring Tanzania in recent months.

The prosecutor also sought between 15 and 20 years for another five people for aiding and abetting the crimes.

"I have given enough evidence that the eight people have a great responsibility in the killing of albinos. That is the reason why I'm asking for the maximum punishment," said Nicodeme Gahimbare, a prosecutor in the eastern Ruyigi region.

"As stated in the country's law, I also want their names to be published in newspapers so that everyone knows they are criminals."

The accused men have all pleaded not guilty. They were arrested in March in possession of what the prosecutor said were human bones.

Gahimbare held up a few of the blood-encrusted bones for the judges to see, to screams of "You are criminals. You should be in jail!" from members of the public in court.

Burundians who could not get inside the packed courtroom crowded around windows outside to follow the proceedings.

There are about 200 albinos in the small central African nation of eight million people. Eleven have been killed in the last eight months. Another 40 have also been murdered across the border in Tanzania.

In one such killing, a gun-wielding gang burst into the mud hut of Generose Nizigiyimana in Burundi, dragged her sleeping six-year-old son into the bush, shot him and butchered parts of his body before disappearing into the night. [ID:nLS074725]

Witchdoctors tell clients the parts bring luck in love, life and business.

Kazungu Kassim, head of the Burundi albino association, attended the trial with a dozen young people with albinism. He said he was satisfied with the prosecutors' request.

"We hope there won't be any more killings of albinos in our country," he told Reuters. (Reporting by Patrick Nduwimana; editing by Helen Nyambura-Mwaura)