Butare — Thousands of people turned up outside the stadium in the South western town of Butare to hear Defence Minister General Marcel Gatsinzi defend himself against allegations that he participated in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
"I did not participate in the genocide in any way", Gen. Gatsinzi told the Gacaca courts after testifying for about one hour on his actions and whereabouts during the genocide.
"Even though I was their soldier, I was considered as an accomplice of the rebels", repeated the General several times. He was referring to the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) rebels who had been fighting government forces since October 1990.
When the genocide broke out in April 1994, Gatsinzi was the head of a non-commissioned officers' academy- the école des sous officiers (ESO) - in Butare, 120 km south of Kigali.
When the genocide ended in July 1994, the General joined the ranks of the victorious RPF forces and was named Minister of Defence last year.
Gacaca, a blend of the conventional and Rwandan traditional justice system, was set up about three years ago to speed up the genocide trials and reconciliation.
In a hearing that lasted over three hours, General Gatsinzi outlined his defence amidst occasional bouts of boos and murmurs of disapproval from the crowd.
"I am not satisfied with his responses but at least I am pleased he appeared here", Consolata Uwimana, a genocide survivor told Hirondelle News Agency immediately after the hearing.
Gatsinzi is accused of ordering his soldiers from the military academy to kill Tutsis and not coming to the rescue of those in danger.
Judges of the tribunal will decide later whether or not to indict him.
Gacaca law permits suspects to retain their positions as long as they do not pose any threats to witnesses.
General Marcel Gatsinzi is the most senior government official to appear before the Gacaca courts as a potential suspect.