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Military Court Clears Belgian U.N. Commander In Rwanda Massacre

July 4, 1996

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ A military court acquitted a former Belgian U.N. commander today of negligence in the slaughter of 10 Belgian peacekeepers by Rwandan soldiers two years ago.

The court ruled there was insufficient evidence to show Col. Luc Marchal knew he was putting his troops in excessive danger by ordering them to escort the Rwandan prime minister on April 7, 1994, from her home to a radio station in Kigali, the Rwandan capital.

Violence swept Kigali on the day of the slayings as ethnic tensions erupted following the death of the country’s president, Juvenal Habyarimana, in a suspicious plane crash.

Acting on a rumor that Belgian troops had shot down the presidential plane, Rwandan troops captured the lightly armed peacekeepers and executed them one by one. Members of the Rwandan presidential guard murdered the prime minister, Agathe Uwilingyimana, as she tried to escape.

After the massacre, Belgium withdrew its troops from the U.N. peacekeeping operation in Rwanda. Remaining U.N. units were powerless in the following weeks as soldiers and militiamen from the majority Hutu tribe massacred more than 500,000 people, mostly members of the Tutsi minority.

A military inquiry into the peacekeepers’ slayings led Belgium to issue international arrest warrants for two former Rwandan army officers.

One, Col. Theoneste Bagosora, is currently held in Cameroon where Belgian authorities are seeking his extradition. He is accused of helping mastermind the massacre of Tutsis.

Marchal was commander of the Kigali sector of the U.N. operation and second-in-command of the entire U.N. mission in Rwanda, a former Belgian colony.

It was the first time a Belgian officer faced a court-martial for the death of men under his command. If convicted, Marchal had faced up to two years in jail.

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