Crime & Courts

Witness: Kansas defendant ordered killings

A Hutu man who refused to burn down his Tutsi relatives' homes during the 1994 Rwandan genocide was killed after a Kansas man allegedly offered to buy the one who killed him a bottle of beer, a witness testified.

Gruesome details of the events that allegedly unfolded 17 years ago in an impoverished African country emerged as testimony in the trial of Lazare Kobagaya entered its fourth day in a federal courtroom in Kansas.

The 84-year-old Topeka man is accused 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, must prove that Kobagaya lied to U.S. immigration authorities about his involvement in the genocide. Kobagaya contends he is innocent.

A Rwandan farmer, Emmanuel Nzabandora, who worked nights as a watchman in an African village where Kobagaya once lived, described the events of April 15, 1994, when the genocide began in Birambo as a Hutu mob burned down their Tutsi neighbors' houses.

Nzabandora told jurors that Kobagaya, a Hutu who was born in the neighboring African country of Burundi, was an important man in the community for whom he occasionally worked. He testified that, on that day of the arsons, Kobagaya told the crowd not to spare any Tutsi houses.

Nzabandora also recounted an incident that evening in which Kobagaya allegedly told another man that he would buy a bottle of beer for the man if he would not leave a Hutu man who had refused to burn Tutsi houses.

Prosecutor Steven Parker asked whether that meant Kobagaya was encouraging the man to kill him. Nzabandora replied, "That is how it was — otherwise he would not tell him he would buy him a beer."

The next morning, Kobagaya and others came to the workshop in Birambo where Nzabandora was working and told him to come with them and they would show him some Tutsi to kill.

When he refused, two of the men beat him with a stick. He testified that Kobagaya then stabbed him in the leg with a traditional Hutu weapon that consists of a cane in which a knife is concealed.

Nzabandora testified that, fearing for his own life, he followed Kobagaya and the others to Ruhuka, where four men and a woman were being held prisoner. Nzabandora said he clubbed one of the men to death as Kobagaya watched.

Nzabandora also testified about an attack at Mount Nyakizu, where thousands of Tutsis had sought refuge. He said soldiers and policemen armed with guns and explosives fired upon the unarmed Tutsis. The local residents would then go after any who escaped with machetes and spears.

He told jurors that Kobagaya helped organize a hunting party after the massacre for any survivors.