A U.N. court convicted a former Rwandan Hutu militia leader today of ordering the deaths of thousands of Tutsis, and sentenced him to life in prison for genocide and crimes against humanity.

Georges Rutaganda "deliberately participated in the crimes and has not shown the slightest remorse," said Judge Laity Kama.

Rutaganda, convicted on three of eight counts of genocide and crimes against humanity, was vice president of the Interahamwe death squads. The squads, together with the army and security forces, carried out the 1994 government-orchestrated slaughter of more than 500,000 minority Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus.

The 41-year-old former businessman ordered killings and "took no steps to stop the Interahamwe from committing crimes, but on the contrary, he even killed with his own hands," the court said.

Rutaganda is the sixth Rwandan to be convicted of genocide by the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Life in prison is the maximum penalty allowed.

Rutaganda's conviction followed controversy over a ruling last month by the tribunal's appellate judges in The Hague that freed a top genocide suspect on procedural grounds. Rwanda has suspended cooperation with the tribunal in protest.

Defense attorney Tiphaine Dickson said today's verdict was motivated by pressure to appease Rwanda and would be appealed.