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French court finds Rwandan guilty on charges of genocide

PARIS -- A French court sentenced a former Rwandan army captain to 25 years in prison over the 1994 genocide Friday, in a landmark ruling just weeks ahead of the massacre's 20th anniversary.

Pascal Simbikangwa, a 54-year-old former member of the Rwandan presidential guard, was found guilty of perpetrating genocide and of complicity in crimes against humanity.

Prosecutors in the trial — the first of its kind in France — have asked for life imprisonment for Simbikangwa, branding him an ethnic “cleanser” who was “radically committed” to his work and a “man capable of the worst.”

The defense had requested he be acquitted, saying the trial was politically motivated and describing witnesses as unreliable and guided by spite, indoctrination or fear.

The defendant himself, who denied all charges against him, took the stand one last time on Friday morning, calling on the court to recognize his “innocence.”

“In a few moments you will be alone with your conscience, you are called upon to decide my fate,” he told the jury.

“To all Tutsi victims, I am thinking of them. Sorry for the weaknesses of my condition that did not allow me to help you like I would have wanted to,” he said.

The jury then retired to deliberate their verdict on events that took place two decades ago in the small central African country, some 6,000 kilometers away.

The trial was being closely watched in France, which has long been accused of failing to rein in the Rwandan regime at the time of the genocide between April and July 1994 that left 800,000 dead.

And in a rare case for France, it is being filmed, with recordings due to be available once the case is concluded.

Simbikangwa, who is in a wheelchair after a 1986 car accident left him paraplegic, was accused of inciting, organizing and aiding massacres during the genocide, particularly by supplying arms and instructions to Hutu militia who were manning road blocks and killing Tutsi men, women and children.

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This undated photo provided by Interpol on Feb. 4 shows Pascal Simbikangwa, 54, Rwanda's former intelligence chief. A Paris court delivered France's first-ever conviction for ...

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