Crime & Courts

Neighbor: I didn't see man at ethnic killings

A former neighbor of a Kansas man accused of participating in the 1994 Rwandan genocide testified Tuesday that he never saw the man at any of the ethnic killings in the area where they lived.

Jean-Marie Byiringiro took the stand during the third day of testimony in the U.S. immigration trial of Lazare Kobagaya. Byiringiro, who admitted killing a 12-year-old Tutsi boy in exchange for a goat as part of the genocide, said he was at nearly all of the ethnic killings in the area where he and Kobagaya lived.

Kobagaya, 84, is in a federal courtroom in Kansas fighting charges of unlawfully obtaining U.S. citizenship in 2006 with fraud and misuse of an alien registration card. The government, which is seeking to revoke his citizenship, contends he lied to U.S. immigration authorities about his involvement in the genocide. Kobagaya contends he is innocent.

The arsons and killings related to Kobagaya's case allegedly occurred in a rural community known as Birambo, where Kobagaya and his family lived at the time, as well as at Mount Nyakizu, where thousands of Tutsis had sought refuge.

The government contends Kobagaya was a wealthy and influential leader who incited the arsons and killings in his community, along with Francois Bazaramba, a former Rwandan pastor who was sentenced last year to life imprisonment by a Finnish court for committing genocide against the Tutsi minority in 1994.

Most of Byiringiro's testimony implicated Bazaramba, not Kobagaya. In fact, Byiringiro, who served seven years in prison for his role in the genocide, told jurors that Kobagaya, a Hutu born in neighboring Burundi, did not have any power in the community because he was a refugee in Rwanda.

An estimated 500,000 to 800,000 people were killed in Rwanda between April and July 1994. Most belonged to an ethnic group known as the Tutsi, while most of the killings were carried out by members of an ethnic group known as the Hutu.

When a mob gathered at Bazaramba's house before the homes of Tutsis were set on fire on April 15, 1994, Byiringiro said, Kobagaya came out of his house only because people were in front of it. It was Bazaramba who spoke to the crowd, Byiringiro said. During the speech, Bazaramba called on Kobagaya to explain to the crowd that the Tutsis were bad people.

Byiringiro said through a translator that Kobagaya did tell people that "we did not know the badness of the Tutsis" and that if they didn't kill them, the Tutsis would kill the Hutus. However, Byiringiro told the jury he did not see Kobagaya join the rest of the crowd of more than 100 people in the arsons.

His testimony came a day after another neighbor, Valens Murindangabo, testified that Kobagaya told the mob to burn down the houses of Tutsis so they would not return and ordered the killings of others.

On Tuesday, defense attorney Kurt Kerns questioned Murindangabo, a former teacher who has served more than 10 years in prison for his role in the genocide, about an eight-page government form he had filled out as part of his own confession. The form asked him to list all witnesses and accomplices, but it did not have Kobagaya's name.

Murindangabo insisted an attachment had been lost that listed Kobagaya as participating in the genocide.

The defense also hammered on the money he was receiving for his testimony — $96 a day while he's in the United States and $274 when he was in Rwanda for meeting with investigators. The defense team noted that is a lot of money in Rwanda, where the per capita annual income is $490 a year.