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Former Rwanda army chief jailed for 30 years

ARUSHA, May 17 – The UN court for Rwanda handed a 30-year prison sentence on Tuesday to former army chief Augustin Bizimungu for his role in the 1994 genocide in which around 800,000 people were killed.

The court also convicted Augustin Ndindiliyimana, the former head of the paramilitary police, of genocide crimes but ordered his release as he had already spent 11 years behind bars since his arrest.

The court ruled that while Bizimungu had complete control over the men he commanded, Ndindiliyimana had only "limited control" over his men after the start of the massacres on April 6, 1994 and was opposed to the killing.

Two senior officers tried alongside the generals were also sentenced Tuesday.

Major Francois-Xavier Nzuwonemeye, the former commander of the reconnaissance battalion, was handed 20 years in jail for killing as a crime against humanity and murder as a war crime.

His subordinate, captain Innocent Sagahutu, was also sentenced to 20 years.

Bizimungu and Ndindiliyimana are two of the most senior figures to be tried by the Tanzania-based International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in connection with the genocide.

Ndindiliyimana was arrested in January 2000 in Belgium and Nzuwonemeye the following month in France. Sagahutu was detained in Denmark and Bizimungu in 2002 in Angola.

The case had been effectively adjourned since June 2009 when prosecutors requested life sentences for all four defendants while their defence lawyers asked for their acquittal.

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The long-running case is known as the Military II trial.

In the Military I trial, Colonel Theoneste Bagosora, presented by the prosecutor as the brains behind the genocide, was sentenced to life in prison in December 2008, along with two other senior military figures.

Bagosora appealed and the hearing ran from March 30 to April 1, but the appeal verdict has yet to be handed down.

The ICTR, based in the northern Tanzanian town of Arusha, was established in late 1994 to try the perpetrators of Rwanda\’s genocide which claimed some 800,000 lives – mainly minority Tutsis – in a span of 100 days.

It is tasked only with trying those who bear the greatest responsibility for the genocide.

Lower-ranking officials and citizens accused of taking part in the killing have been tried in Rwanda, either in the normal court system or at grass roots tribunals called "gacaca".

The gacaca are a revamped version of traditional tribunals that settled disputes in villages. The accused have no lawyers and locals considered to be upright citizens form panels of judges.

The gacaca have comes in for a barrage a criticism from rights groups but have, according to the Rwandan authorities, enabled over one million people accused of involvement in the genocide to be tried.

They were set up as a solution to what became a crippling backlog of genocide cases in the national court system.

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