Rwandan army officer in French landmark trial over genocide

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In France, a landmark trial has begun of a former Rwandan army captain charged with complicity over the 1994 genocide that left 800,000 people dead.

Pascal Simbikangwa, 54, was arrested in October 2008 on the French Indian Ocean island of Mayotte, where he had been living under an alias.

He is accused of helping to arm ethnic Hutu militia, who manned roadblocks in the capital, and instructing them about their part in the slaughter.

In 2004, the European Courts for Human Rights condemned France for taking so long to bring suspects accused of atrocities abroad to court. After the genocide, many Rwandans fled to France for safe haven as the two countries enjoyed close diplomatic ties.

Victims’ groups say this is a day they have long been waiting for. Alain Gauthier, from the Collective of Civil Plaintiffs for Rwanda said: “It’s the trial of a suspected perpetrator of genocide. We expect Pascal Simbikangwa to give answers to the court, because we’ve been fighting for a very long time to see a first trial take place in France. At last it’s happening.”

Simbikangwa, who denies all the charges, could be jailed for life if convicted. His lawyers are expected to press for his acquittal, citing fears he can not receive a fair trial partly because they have had difficulty finding anyone to speak in his defence.

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