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Rwandans charged over massacre

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Belgian prosecutors took four hours to detail charges against four Rwandans relating to the 1994 massacre of 5,000 people.

The prosecution laid out details of its case against two Benedictine nuns, Sister Gertrude and Sister Maria Kisito, university professor Vincent Ntezimana and businessman Alphonse Higaniro.

The nuns, born Consolata Mukangango and Julienne Mukabutera, who wore their brown and white habits in court, are charged under the Geneva Conventions with premeditated murder and crimes against humanity during the slaughter by Hutu extremists of about 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus seven years ago.

They are alleged to have taken part in the killings of more than 5,000 people who had sought refuge at their convent outside Butare, a southern city in the former Belgian colony.

The nuns allegedly helped Hutu soldiers and militiamen slaughter the Tutsis and Hutu moderates.

The nuns, who are due to enter their formal pleas at a later date, told the court they themselves had been emotionally scarred by the massacres.

Sister Gertrude, who was mother superior at the convent near Butare when the massacres occurred, had previously directed the choir at the choir at Sovu, where she took her orders.

"Since the war, in all that I suffered, I don't know how to sing anymore," she told the court in a soft, steady voice.

"I still have a lot of trauma after all that happened," Sister Maria Kisito said, her voice wavering at times. "I still have nightmares."

'Victims of quarrels'

Ntezimana and Higaniro are also charged with collaborating with the Hutu extremists in their hunt for Tutsis during the three months of carnage in the spring of 1994.

If convicted, the four accused could face life in prison.

The two nuns have been living in a convent in the Belgian town of Maredret. Ntezimana and Higaniro also live in Belgium.

Defence lawyers say their clients are innocent.

Serge Wahis, lawyer for the nuns, said the two women were the victims of quarrels within their convent and the targets of revenge. He said witnesses to the massacre blamed the nuns because they the nuns were thought to have done nothing to help the victims.

"There are so many stories, old quarrels," Wahis told the court. "There are serious wounds, very strong resentments ... that they must find someone responsible."

Lawyers for Ntezimana and Higaniro said the case against the two men could not stand because it was previously rejected due to lack of evidence by the International Tribunal Court for Rwanda established in Tanzania in 1996.

"Vincent Ntezimana hopes the process will be an occasion to condemn the horrors of the genocide, while at the same time proving his innocence," lawyer Annable Belramri said.

The trial against the four defendants is the first such case to go to jury trial outside the central African country.

The suspects are the first to be charged under a relatively new Belgian law that allows individuals, including non-Belgians, to be tried in Belgium for war crimes committed elsewhere.

Reuters contributed to this report.



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RELATED SITES:
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