Witness in French inquiry into 1994 Rwanda plane crash disappears

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A key witness for a French court investigating who triggered the Rwandan genocide has gone missing in Kenya after a Paris judge insisted the witness’ name be identified in legal documents – a move critics say compromised his safety.

The witness -- a former presidential bodyguard named Emile Gafirita who fled Rwanda and was hiding in Nairobi – was seized on November 13 by a group of unknown individuals.

The witness had been informed earlier that day that Judge Marc Trevidic was willing to hear his testimony. “I sent this news to Mr Gafirita on Thursday by email and overnight he was taken,” his lawyer Francois Cantier told Digital Journal.

Gafirita understood his identity would be disclosed in the proceedings but agreed to provide testimony anyhow, Cantier said. “Of course I warned him of the risks.”

The witness was due to tell the judge that as a young soldier in the Rwandan Patriotic Army -- then led by Paul Kagame -- he helped transport missiles that were used to shoot down the plane carrying former Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana and his Burundian counterpart Cyprien Ntaryamira, the lawyer confirmed.

The assassination of the two presidents unleashed the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, where hundreds of thousands of ethnic Tutsis and Hutus were slaughtered by Hutu extremists.

Cantier said that “under French law, the anonymity of a witness can be guaranteed. I proposed this be done but the judge did not agree.”

“He believed that the declarations of the witness would identify who he was, in any case.”

“The judge said that masking the identifying information in the declaration would have rendered the testimony useless,” Cantier explained.

Meanwhile, a lawyer defending the Rwandan officials indicted by the French court admitted he indeed passed on Gafirita’s name to his clients in Rwanda, several of whom are top aides to President Kagame.

For the rest of the article please see Digitaljournal.com


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