November 10, 2009 / 1:25 PM / 10 years ago

Rwanda genocide trial starts in suspect's absence

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -The trial of a former Rwandan bank director charged with helping fund the 1994 Rwanda genocide will go ahead despite his absence due to ill health, a Belgian court ruled Tuesday.

Skulls from Rwanda's genocide lie in the Ntarama church compound in Rwanda, August 22, 2003. REUTERS/Antony Njuguna

Ephrem Nkezabera, accused of providing funding for extremist Hutu militias, faces charges of war crimes including murder, attempted murder and rape.

The 57-year-old’s lawyer had asked the court to postpone the trial, saying that Nkezabera was undergoing chemotherapy for cancer and was too ill to attend.

But many relatives of victims feared that a trial would never take place if it did not go ahead now.

“We want official recognition, yes or no, of whether he is guilty of these facts,” Dorothee Uzamukunda, a family member of one of the victims, said.

Nkezabera, a former director of the Commercial Bank of Rwanda, has been described by witnesses as one of the engines of the Interahamwe militia, for which he provided funding.

He is also accused of financing privately owned Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM), which was used to spread anti-Tutsi propaganda.

He was arrested in June 2004 by the Belgian authorities while visiting a family member in Belgium.

Ethnic Hutu militia and soldiers slaughtered 800,000 minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus in just 100 days during the 1994 massacre.

The court is expected to rule on the case on December 1.

Reporting by Antonia van de Velde; Editing by Giles Elgood

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