New trial for Rwandan jailed in Germany on genocide charges

Former Rwandan mayor Onesphore R. waits for the opening of his trial at court in Frankfurt/M., western Germany, on January 18, 2011 (AFP Photo/Marius Becker)

Berlin (AFP) - A Rwandan man sentenced to 14 years' jail in Germany over a 1994 church massacre could now face a life term after a top court Thursday ordered a partial retrial.

The federal court found that evidence showed Onesphore Rwabukombe, a former town mayor, took an active role in genocide, rather than just aiding and abetting it as found by a lower court.

The judges said there would be no need to re-establish the evidence for the massacre, in which at least 400 Tutsis were killed with machetes, axes and hoes on church grounds in the northeastern town of Kiziguro.

Germany's Federal Court of Justice said that hearings in a Frankfurt court that ended last year indicated that the former mayor had actively participated in the killings, and ruled that the case be sent back to Frankfurt.

It found Rwabukombe had already been involved the day before the April 11 massacre, had brought armed Hutus to the church and told them "begin your work".

"A conviction on the grounds of perpetration with the consequence of life imprisonment is a possibility," said presiding judge Joerg-Peter Becker at the federal court in Karlsruhe.

In February last year, the higher regional court in the western city of Frankfurt heard that Rwabukombe had ordered the attack and later organised the removal of the bodies and the dumping of them in pits.

The three-year trial was the first case heard in Germany related to the Rwanda genocide, in which an estimated 800,000 people, most of them ethnic Tutsis, were killed between April and July 1994.

Rwabukombe has lived in Germany since 2002 and applied for political asylum but was arrested in 2011 on an Interpol warrant.

Germany has prosecuted war criminals from the Nazi era and the former Yugoslavia for genocide but this case was the first time it has tried someone over the Rwandan bloodletting.