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Rwandan nuns await sentencing

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Two Rwandan nuns found guilty of war crimes during the 1994 genocide are awaiting sentencing.

The defendants are scheduled to be sentenced in court on Friday. They face a maximum of life imprisonment.

In a landmark trial in Belgium, a 12-member-jury found the two Catholic nuns, a university professor and a former government minister, guilty early on Friday of helping Hutu militia massacre thousands of Tutsi refugees.

The trial, which lasted almost eight weeks, was the first in which a jury of ordinary citizens had sat in judgment of war crimes committed in another country.

A 1993 Belgian law gives Belgian courts jurisdiction over violations of the Geneva Convention on war crimes, no matter where they were committed.

Reed Brody, advocacy director of Human Rights Watch, told the Associated Press: "This is a big step forward for international justice.

"It shows that such a trial can be organized, that you can have a fair trial for events that happen on the other side of the world."

A group of Hutu youths present at the hearing were angry at the guilty verdicts, but relatives of the genocide victims hugged, smiled or sobbed.

Margeritte Lens-Nyirajhninka, who said she had lost all of her family in the Rwandan genocide, told AP: "They have given a human face to people that were killed like animals.

"Today, we can feel our humanity has been recognized."

The charges against the two Hutu nuns -- Consolata Mukangango (Sister Gertrude), 42, and Julienne Mukabutera (Sister Maria Kisito), 36 -- stemmed from attacks by militia mobs in April and May 1994 on their convent at Sovu in which up to 7,000 Tutsis are estimated to have perished.

The prosecution claimed the two encouraged and collaborated with the killers, even supplying them with gasoline to burn a garage where some 500 people were hiding, according to the Associated Press.

Their lawyers rejected that, claiming witnesses lied and insisted the nuns were innocent bystanders, unable to halt the slaughter.

The two male defendants -- university professor Vincent Ntezimana, 39, and factory owner Alphonse Higaniro, 52 -- also denied the charges.

They were accused of being Hutu extremists who opposed proposals to share power with Tutsi rebels and responded by helping plan and carry out the genocide in their southern region.

More than 500,000 people were killed in 100 days of killing organized by the former Hutu government of Rwanda.

Tutsi-led rebels seized control of the country in July 1994.

The four fled to Belgium -- Rwanda's former colonial ruler -- after the rebels took control and put an end to the killings.

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