Rwandan released after serving 7-year sentence

A former Rwandan youth organizer convicted of crimes against humanity committed during the 1994 genocide was released Friday after completing a seven-year sentence and said he plans to join his family in Belgium, reported AP.

Joseph Nzabirinda's release comes a day after three men received life sentences for their roles in the genocide, during which more than half a million people were killed in a 100-day slaughter.

Nzabirinda, 51, pleaded guilty in 2002 to attending meetings where massacres were planned, and aiding and abetting murders but not directly participating in them. He said he feared his family would have been targeted if he had failed to attend.

As he left prison, Nzabirinda told The Associated Press: "I will consult my lawyer to see how I can rejoin my family in Belgium."

More than 500,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed after the then-President Juvenal Habyarimana's plane was shot down as he returned from negotiating with Tutsi rebels in 1994. Habyarimana was a member of the Hutu majority.

Hours after the crash, militants from the Hutu ethnic majority known as Interahamwe set up roadblocks across Kigali and the next day began killing Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The slaughter eventually ended after Tutsi rebels invaded from neighboring Uganda and drove out the genocidal forces.

Nzabirinda, a Hutu who is married to a Tutsi, is the third man convicted of crimes against humanity during the Rwandan genocide to be released.

Last March, a former town councilor was released and he now lives in a refugee camp in Malawi. The other convict to finish his sentence died a month after his release without having found a country to take him in.

The Tanzania-based International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda was set up by the U.N. in 1994 to try those responsible for the killings.

On Thursday, it sentenced Col. Theoneste Bagosora and two military officials to life imprisonment for their part in the killings. The court said Bagosora used his position as the highest authority in Rwanda's Ministry of Defense to direct Hutu soldiers to kill Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

There have been 42 judgments, of which six have been acquittals. The tribunal does not have the power to impose the death sentence. Eighteen trials remain under way but none of the defendants is as senior as Bagosora.

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