By Sukhdev Chhatbar
Thursday, December 14, 2006
NAIROBI, Dec. 13 -- A Catholic priest was convicted Wednesday of taking part in Rwanda's 1994 genocide by ordering militiamen to set fire to a church and then bulldoze it while 2,000 people seeking safety were huddled inside.
The Rev. Athanase Seromba was sentenced by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda to 15 years in prison but will get credit for four years already served. The tribunal is based in Arusha, Tanzania.
Seromba was charged with directing a militia that "attacked with traditional arms and poured fuel through the roof of the church, while gendarmes and communal police launched grenades and killed the refugees."
After failing to kill all the people inside, Seromba ordered the demolition of the church, the charging document said.
Thousands of Rwandans have turned away from Catholicism, angered and saddened by the complicity of church officials in the 100-day genocide, in which Rwanda's Hutu majority killed about 800,000 minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus in an organized slaughter to settle long-simmering ethnic and political tensions. Priests, nuns and followers were implicated in the killings, and some churches became sites of notorious massacres.
Last month, the tribunal sentenced a Catholic nun to 30 years in jail for helping militias kill hundreds of people hiding in a hospital. In 2001, two Catholic nuns were convicted by a Belgian court for aiding and abetting the murders.
Rwanda's genocide began hours after a plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana was mysteriously shot down as it approached Kigali, the capital, on the evening of April 6, 1994. The slaughter ended after rebels, led by the current president, Paul Kagame, ousted the extremist Hutu government that had orchestrated the slaughter.
About 63,000 genocide suspects are detained in Rwanda, and judicial authorities say at least 761,000 people should stand trial for their roles in the slaughter and the chaos that came with it. The suspects represent 9.2 percent of Rwanda's estimated 8.2 million population.
The U.N. tribunal in Tanzania is trying those accused of masterminding the genocide.