July 3, 1997
By KELLEY SHANNON Associated Press Writer
LAREDO, Texas (AP) - Depending on whom you talk to, Elizaphan Ntakirutimana is either a man of peace or a murderous minister who helped slaughter of hundreds of fellow Rwandans.
The 73-year-old retired pastor, once a national church leader in his African homeland, is sitting in a southern Texas jail waiting to learn whether he'll be tried on charges of genocide.
"These are among the most, if not the most, heinous charges that an individual can be accused of committing," said Don DeGabrielle, an assistant U.S. attorney.
DeGabrielle is trying to have Ntakirutimana extradited to Africa to face trial before the U.N. tribunal that is targeting those responsible for the 1994 state-orchestrated slaughter of at least half a million Rwandans, most of them Tutsis. The killing ended when Tutsi-led rebels ousted the Hutu-dominated government in July 1994.
At the time of his arrest in September, Ntakirutimana and his wife were living quietly in Laredo, where one of his seven children is a doctor. Ntakirutimana worked part-time in a health-food store.
The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, based in Arusha, Tanzania, accuses Ntakirutimana of slaughtering hundreds of Tutsis in April 1994 after telling them where to seek refuge from the ethnic conflict wracking their country.
He is charged in an indictment with genocide, complicity in genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide and crimes against humanity. Lawyers said it is the first time the United States has been asked to surrender a defendant to a U.N. tribunal.
Ntakirutimana, through his lawyer, former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, denies the charges.
"He's a man that in all of his life has never had any charge of violence against him, but because he's a Hutu and in a position of power, the Tutsis are saying he's guilty of genocide," Clark said. He has declined requests by The Associated Press to interview Ntakirutimana.
Ntakirutimana is not alone in facing such accusations. Church leaders, much trusted in Rwanda, have frequently been implicated in the slaughter.
For now, the pastor remains jailed without bond in Webb County on the Texas-Mexico border, where he awaits an extradition hearing.
Before the genocide, Ntakirutimana was pastor of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Mugonero in Kibuye, which at that time had Rwanda's largest Tutsi population.
In the space of 100 days, the population of more than a quarter million was reduced to less than 8,000, the London-based human rights group African Rights says.
According to the indictment, Ntakirutimana urged a large, mostly Tutsi group of men, women and children to seek refuge inside a church and hospital complex in Kibuye. All but the Tutsis were allowed to leave.
One day in April 1994, an armed convoy that included Ntakirutimana and his son, Gerard, arrived and launched a daylong attack on the group, killing hundreds, the indictment said.
But Clark said Ntakirutimana, now in frail health, was a peacemaker in his homeland, someone who "has never committed or condoned a violent act against any person in his life."
The U.N. tribunal can impose a maximum sentence of life in prison. It has indicted 21 suspects, 13 of whom are in custody. Separate genocide trials are taking place in Rwanda, where conviction can be punished by the death penalty.