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UN commander accuses Rwanda colonel in massacre tribunal

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International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda

ARUSHA, Tanzania (Reuters) -- A former Canadian general described on Monday how a suspect accused of masterminding the 1994 genocide in Rwanda had maintained an air of calm as the carefully planned slaughter began to unfold.

Romeo Dallaire, who was in charge of U.N. forces in Rwanda during the genocide, was taking the stand as a prosecution witness for the first time at a tribunal for leaders accused of organizing the killings of 800,000 people.

Dallaire, who was so traumatized by his failure to halt the slaughter that six years later he tried to commit suicide, said former Rwandan army Colonel Theoneste Bagosora was the "kingpin" exercising government authority at the time of the massacres.

"What I found incredible to witness was I had never found someone so calm and so at ease with what was going on," Dallaire told the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), describing Bagosora's conduct.

"He shuffled some papers and signed some documents," he told the tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania. "It was like they were totally on another planet, or something was going as to plan."

"At no other time did I see anyone other than Bagosora as the leading body. It was surreal. They were implementing a plan we had heard from so many sources," he said.

Dallaire was testifying against Bagosora and three other military commanders standing joint trial on charges of ordering ethnic Hutu militia to butcher minority Tutsis and politically-moderate Hutus during 100 days of bloodshed.

Bagosora and fellow former officers Anatole Nsengiyumva, Aloys Ntabakuze, and Gratien Kabiligi have all pleaded not guilty to charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.

Prosecutors are trying to show the mass killings were officially sanctioned by hardliners in the ethnic Hutu majority to maintain their dominance over the Tutsi minority.

"All fingers pointed to the hard-line elements in the government," Dallaire told the tribunal.

Prosecutors say Bagosora was so opposed to concessions made by his government to Tutsi rebels at 1993 peace talks that he left the negotiating table, saying he was returning to Rwanda to "prepare the apocalypse."

They say he seized control after President Juvenal Habyarimana was killed when a plane carrying him was shot down on April 6, 1994. The genocide began hours later at roadblocks set up in the capital Kigali, then spread across the country.

An official U.N. inquiry in 1999 said the massacres could have been slowed down, if not prevented, had Dallaire's mission been allowed to act in the first hours of the killings.

On January 11, 1994, he sent a message to U.N. headquarters relaying a warning from an informant that preparations were being made for massacres and at one point defied U.N. orders to abandon the operation in Rwanda.

The retired general has written a detailed account of the events in his book "Shake Hands with the Devil," highlighting the reluctance of the international community to get involved, and the inability of 2,500 U.N. peacekeepers to halt the carnage.

Copyright 2004 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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