Rwandan woman identifies US man as participating in attack on mountainside during genocide

Posted: May 6, 2011 in News
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By Roxana Hegeman, The Associated Press

WICHITA, Kan. — A woman whose husband and three young children were slaughtered during the 1994 Rwandan genocide cried Thursday as she identified from the witness stand the U.S. man she contends led a mob attack up a mountain where she and many others had sought refuge from the ethnic carnage that was sweeping the African nation.

Her account was the most emotional yet as the trial of Lazare Kobagaya entered its fifth day of testimony in a federal courtroom in Wichita. The government is seeking to revoke his U.S. citizenship for allegedly lying to immigration authorities about his involvement in the genocide.

The 84-year-old Topeka man is charged with unlawfully obtaining U.S. citizenship in 2006 with fraud and misuse of an alien registration card in a case prosecutors have said is the first in the United States requiring proof of genocide. Kobagaya contends he is innocent.

An estimated 500,000 to 800,000 people were killed in Rwanda between April and July 1994. Most of the dead belonged to an ethnic group known as the Tutsi, while most of the killings were carried out by members of an ethnic group known as the Hutu.

Valerie Niyitegeka, a Tutsi woman whose family farmed near Kobagaya’s village, recounted for jurors the events of April 15, 1994, when she, her husband Appolloni, and their six children fled as mobs of Hutu men burned Tutsi houses.

“I was OK for my house to be burned — as long as I am not dead,” she testified through a translator.

Niyitegeka detailed how she climbed — and at times crawled — up the steep, rocky mountainside of Mount Nyakizu with her youngest son strapped to her back. She described how the women and children gathered piles of stones for their men to throw as mobs of Hutus attacked.

She told jurors she was able to identify the elderly Kobagaya as the leader of the attacking mob because she recognized the way he walked and the cane he carried that day. She pointed at him in the courtroom: “He is there. He is the one.”

The defence tried to cast doubt on that identification by noting trees and other obstructions on the mountain that day.

During the melee as the family fled the mountain in the ensuing days, Niyitegeka was separated from her husband and three of her children. She testified she would never see them alive again. Their slain children’s ages were 12, 10 and 8.

Joseph Yandagiye, a 76-year-old Hutu farmer, testified about what happened to the children and their father, who sought refuge at Yandagiye’s house. After taking them in, Yandagiye went to run some errands. When he returned, he said he found a crowd of Hutus had already surrounded his house.

Yandagiye testified that when the crowd threatened him in an attempt to get into the house, Appollini came out and told the mob: “Take me instead.”

Yandagiye also told jurors he initially followed the mob that had taken Appolloni and his children, but turned back after they told him they would make him kill them himself if he continued to follow.

Later that day, a group of Hutu men came to get him too, Yandagiye testified. It was then that he learned that Appolloni and his children had been killed.

Yandagiye testified that Kobagaya told the mob that they should kill him too because he had sheltered Tutsis in his house during a 1959 conflict. Yandagiye said another community leader, Francois Bazaramba, urged the crowd not to kill him but to punish Yandagiye by making him buy beer, which he did.

Bazaramba is a former Rwandan pastor who was sentenced last year to life imprisonment by a Finnish court for committing genocide.

Copyright © 2011 The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.


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