ARUSHA 20 may 2002 (Internews) Leoncie Bongwa, wife of genocide suspect Andre Ntagerura, today testified in the defense of her husband before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). Ntagerura was a minister of transport and communication in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide.
Bongwa is the 24th witness for Ntagerura, one of the three defendants in the so-called “Cyangugu Trial.” Ntagerura is jointly tried with Emmanuel Bagambiki, a former governor of Cyangugu Province and Samuel Imanishimwe, former commander of the Cyangugu military barracks. All three have denied charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.
Led by Benoit Henry of Canada, lead counsel for Ntagerura, Bongwa testified that her mother is ethnic Tutsi and that she was born in Karangera commune in Cyangugu Province.
Bongwa’s evidence focused on Ntagerura’s movements during April 1994.
Bongwa claimed that her husband was not in Cyangugu between 6 and 9 April 1994 because she, her husband and their three children sought refuge from 6 April at the presidential guards military camp in Kimuhurura in Kigali to escape violence.
Violence erupted in Rwanda after 6 April 1994 following the death of President Juvenal Habyarimana. Unknown assailants shot down Habyarimana’s plane as it approached the capital Kigali, killing all on board including Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira.
On 10 April, Bongwa told the court, Ntagerura accompanied the body of the Burundian President for burial in Bujumbura. According to her testimony, he returned to Kigali on 11 April 1994.
Habyarimana’s death sparked the genocide, which claimed the lives of more than 800,000 ethnic Tutsi and politically moderate Hutu between 7 April- July 1994. According to the prosecution, an estimated 100,000 people were massacred in Cyangugu alone.
The prosecution alleges that Ntagerura had strong community and political ties in Cyangugu and frequently traveled to Karengera, Gatare and other communes in the province between 1 January and 31 July 1994. He allegedly held meetings with other members of the Movement of the Republic for National Democracy (MRND), as well as with councilors and mayors in the province, to plan the genocide.
Ntagerura is also alleged to have often been in the company of Yusuf Munyakazi, the ‘Interahamwe’ leader in Cyangugu Province. The Interahamwe was the youth wing of Movement of the Republic for National Development (MRND), the party that led a coalition government during the genocide.
In her testimony, Bongwa claimed that Ntagerura went on several missions outside Rwanda in 1994. However, she did not name the countries Ntagerura visited. “I was told by his friends in the government that he had been going on several missions. But I do not remember where,” she said.
Under cross-examination by prosecution attorney Holo Makwaia of Tanzania, Bongwa said she was not aware of killings carried out by presidential guard soldiers in Kimuhurura area, where she lived.
“Did you hear about the killing of the Rwandan Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana?” Makwaia asked. Bongwa responded that she heard that ethnic Tutsi and politically moderate Hutu were being killed because they were accomplices of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), an army that was invading the country.
The prosecution alleges that soldiers of the presidential guard killed Uwilingiyimana and her husband on 7 April 1994 as well as 10 Belgian soldiers who were part of a United Nations peacekeeping mission in Rwanda.
Makwaia attempted to ask the witness if she believed there were general killings of innocent civilians or that genocide occurred in Rwanda but Henry objected that the line of questioning was improper because Bongwa is a factual witness, and can only testify about dates.
“This is a factual witness and it is improper for the prosecutor to ask about her opinion,” Henry objected. Makwaia concluded her cross-examination after Henry raised objections whenever she tried to rephrase the question.
The next witness — identified only as “AH” — began his testimony in the afternoon. He alleged that he saw Ntagerura in Cyangugu in the middle of May 1994 and also heard through a friend that Ntagerura visited Cyangugu again in June 1994.
AH continues to testify before Trial Chamber III of the ICTR, comprising Judges Lloyd George Williams of St. Kitts and Nevis (presiding), Yakov Ostrovsky of Russia and Pavel Dolenc of Slovenia.