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Rwanda bars top U.N. war crimes prosecutor del Ponte

(Reuters) -- Rwanda has refused an entry visa to United Nations war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte of Switzerland in protest over the release of a prominent Rwandan genocide suspect by a U.N. tribunal, officials said on Monday.

(Reuters) — Rwanda has refused an entry visa to United Nations war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte of Switzerland in protest over the release of a prominent Rwandan genocide suspect by a U.N. tribunal, officials said on Monday.

Del Ponte, chief prosecutor of the twin U.N. tribunals for Rwanda and Yugoslavia, wanted to visit the African country on Monday to patch up relations after the botched prosecution of genocide suspect Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza.

But Rwandan officials, disgusted by the decision to release Barayagwiza on a technicality, said they refused to issue her a visa when she applied at the Rwandan embassy in Brussels.

“Everyone agrees this a tragedy of justice and until the U.N. shows us concrete steps to first and foremost reverse that ruling in the Barayagwiza decision and ensure that nothing like this happens again, we don’t see any reason for meeting del Ponte,” Attorney General Gerald Gahima told Reuters.

Barayagwiza was director of public affairs in Rwanda’s foreign ministry when the 1994 genocide began, and he allegedly used radio and television broadcasts to incite ethnic Hutus into slaughtering minority Tutsis.

But the U.N. tribunal set up to prosecute the architects of the genocide was ordered this month to release Barayagwiza after its appeal chamber ruled that he had spent too long in prison awaiting trial.

The U.N. tribunal based in the northern Tanzanian town of Arusha has handed down only five verdicts since it was set up to try suspects involved in the slaughter of an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus during the 100-day genocide.

Both the Rwandan government and detained suspects have sharply criticised the tribunal for its slowness and tensions came to a head with Barayagwiza’s release.

Del Ponte, who has held the post of U.N. chief war crimes prosecutor since September, said she regretted the mistakes made by prosecutors in the Barayagwiza case, but Rwanda insists the ruling should be overturned.

Barayagwiza was arrested in Cameroon and transferred to the Rwanda tribunal in November 1997. He was charged in February 1998 with six counts of genocide and crimes against humanity, but pleaded not guilty.

Gahima, the Rwandan attorney general, said the order to release Barayagwiza set an ominous precedent for other cases before the tribunal.

“There are three or four other people who are in the same condition as Barayagwiza, and if they are released in the same way, the whole purpose and credibility of the tribunal will be totally destroyed,” he said.

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