April 23, 2007 / 5:29 PM / 11 years ago

Rwandan denies role in Belgian peacekeeper murders

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Former Rwandan army major Bernard Ntuyahaga denied involvement on Monday in the murder of 10 Belgian peacekeepers and the country’s prime minister in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, insisting he was an innocent bystander.

“I was at the bad place at the bad moment,” he told the court on the second day of his trial.

Ntuyahaga is charged with murdering the Belgians and Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana, who they were trying to protect, on the day after the Rwandan president’s plane was shot down on in 1994.

Prosecutors say he took them from Uwilingiyimana’s residence in a minibus to the Rwandan army camp in Kigali where they were beaten to death, shot or slain with machetes.

The ex-major has said he was passing the residence by chance and gave the Belgians a ride at their request.

Ntuyahaga, wearing a green shirt and dark jacket, said he had only taken the minibus to work and that those responsible for the murders were using him as a scapegoat.

“The others are trying to protect themselves and to make me pay the cost for the damage,” he told the court during extensive questioning by the presiding judge.

Asked about his feelings towards the politics of Uwilingiyimana, a moderate Hutu, he replied: “I did not know her, I didn’t know her face ... You want to take me in political territory, I have nothing to say on that.”

The downing of the president’s plane triggered the genocide, in which some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed by the Hutu-led government and ethnic militias.

Belgium has been trying to get justice for its murdered troops for 13 years. Judges at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda dropped genocide and war crimes charges against Ntuyahaga in 1999.

The trial is due to last at least until June, and the 157 witnesses due to appear include the assassinated prime minister’s children.

It is not the first time Rwandans have stood trial in Belgium over the 1994 genocide. Two Catholic nuns, a university professor, and a businessman were sentenced in 2001 to between 12 and 20 years in jail for aiding the mass murders.

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