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Former Rwanda leader pleads guilty to genocide

May 1, 1998
Web posted at: 8:35 a.m. EDT (1235 GMT)

In this story:

ARUSHA, Tanzania (CNN) -- Former Rwandan Prime Minister Jean Kambanda, who led the small, central African country during the 1994 slaughter of a half-million Tutsis pleaded guilty on Friday to six charges of genocide at a United Nations tribunal.

The guilty plea could clear the way for him to testify against other alleged ringleaders of the genocide.

The maximum sentence the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) can impose is life imprisonment.

The court adjourned after Kambanda's plea and the judges will now set a date for sentencing.

Guilty plea to 6 charges

Kambanda, who was interim prime minister at the height of the genocide, was making his first appearance at the ICTR since his arrest and extradition from Kenya nine months ago.

Nairobi Bureau Chief Catherine Bond explains the significance of Kambanda's guilty plea

Big step for the prosecution
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Implications for other defendants in the 1994 killings
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At a specially convened session of the court -- held on a public holiday in the northern mining town of Arusha -- Kambanda pleaded guilty to six charges read to him by the tribunal president, judge Laity Kama.

He admitted genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, complicity in genocide and two charges of crimes against humanity.

'No one forced me' to plead guilty

Asked by Kama if he understood the charges or if there were "pressures, threats or promises for you to plead guilty," Kambanda replied: "Mr. President, in deciding to plead guilty I did so consciously. No one forced me to do it."

He said he "fully understood" the consequences of the plea and that he realized he could no longer mount a defense.

Rwanda 1994
Hundreds of thousands were killed in the 1994 genocide   

Hundreds of thousands of Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed by Hutu extremists in a three-month carnage in 1994 -- the period Kambanda was interim prime minister of Rwanda.

The indictment released by the tribunal said during the genocide and "in his capacity as prime minister, Jean Kambanda failed in his duty to ensure the security of the Rwandan population."

It said that he knew from provincial visits as prime minister that massacres against civilians were being committed and that at a security meeting in Kibuye in May someone asked him how to protect children who had survived the massacres and were at the local hospital.

"Jean Kambanda gave no response ... on the same day after the meeting the children were killed," it says.

Others face genocide charges

Kambanda, looking fit and dressed in a blue suit with white shirt and patterned tie, told the court he was married and the father of two children.

Kambanda in March 1994   

He is the first person held by the ICTR to plead guilty but some 23 other genocide suspects are held by the court.

Kambanda's pleas were contained in a sealed agreement with the prosecution, indicating he may be called to testify against the others, the Switzerland-based Hirondelle news agency reported.

The U.N. tribunal, founded in November 1996, has yet to conclude a single trial.

On April 24, the Rwandan government executed 22 genocide convicts by firing squad, the first executions for the slaughter.

At least 330 people have been tried in Rwanda on charges relating to the genocide and 116 have been convicted and sentenced to death. More than 125,000 people are awaiting trial.

Nairobi Bureau Chief Catherine Bond and Reuters contributed to this report.


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