Rwandan Priest Accused of Genocide to Appear Before U.N. Court

Travels to Tanzania to Prove His Innocence

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FLORENCE, Italy, FEB. 7, 2002 ( The Rwandan priest accused of taking part in genocide has traveled to Tanzania to appear voluntarily before the U.N. International Criminal Court, responsible for judging crimes committed during his country´s civil war.

«After learning of the accusation, which weighs on me, I wished to go personally to Arusha to answer all the accusations,» Father Athanase Seromba Sumba Bura said in a letter sent to Archbishop Ennio Antonellis of Florence.

Father Seromba, 38, who has been in the Florence Diocese since 1997, left Italy on Wednesday. In 1999, newspapers echoed the accusation of his involvement in the 1994 genocide in which 2,000 Tutsis died.

The accusation of genocide was made by African Rights Watch, an organization close to the current Rwandan government. Similar accusations led to the trial of Bishop Augustin Misago of Gikongoro, who was acquitted in 2000.

«I cordially write you these lines, to express my sincere and filial gratitude for the great hospitality shown me during my four-year stay in your diocese,» the Rwandan priest wrote to Florentine Catholics. «I will now be put on trial, but I do not doubt that your moral and spiritual support will be with me.»

In the letter, the priest also explains his state of mind which led him to make the decision.

«Following the tragedy that shook my country, the loss of my relatives, brothers and sisters, friends and acquaintances,» he wrote, «my presence among you made me believe that I had found a little time to try to forget all that has happened to me.

«Unfortunately, here I am on the bench of the accused as traitor, organizer and executor of a genocide plan that has shaken my country. I have cried out everywhere to justify my innocence, but my cry has not been heard, because before human politics and justice it is not enough to cry; one´s innocence must be proved before a human political institution.»

The priest decided to go before the court several months ago, when first contacts began both with Carla del Ponte, attorney of the International Court at The Hague, and with the chancellor of the U.N. International Court in Arusha.

In recent weeks, Father Seromba contacted the Florence police and requested that Interpol accompany and protect him. Last summer, he asked the diocese for permission to leave the parish in order to avoid reporters and television cameras. He said at the time that he was willing to respond to the accusations in the appropriate places.

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