KIGALI, 22 July (IRIN) - The head of the Roman Catholic Church in Rwanda, Archbishop Thaddée Ntihinyurwa, appeared before one of the country's recently-created "Gacaca" courts on Thursday to answer questions about his role in the 1994 genocide.
Ntihinyurwa, a Hutu who is the most senior church leader to appear before the local courts, denied that in 1994 he had taken part in meetings in southern Cyagungu Province, where he was bishop at the time, to plan the killings.
"I attended these meetings in my capacity as a bishop of the province but I can assure you that the meetings were purely for planning the restoration of peace to the area," he told the court, which was held in Cyagungu's Nyamasheke district.
However, a former mayor of the area who had previously confessed to crimes of genocide refuted the archbishop's statement saying the purpose of those types of meetings were to orchestrate the slaughter.
Genocide survivors also accused Ntihinyurwa of having ordered at least 600 people out of a church and into a soccer stadium where former government soldiers and Hutu militiamen killed them.
An estimated 46,000 people were hacked to death in Nyamasheke District.
Like thousands of Gacaca courts in the towns and villages of Rwanda, the one in Nyamasheke is currently collecting information to identify suspected perpetrators of the 100-day genocide in which an estimated 937,000 people died, according to the last government figures.
The court in Nyamasheke will now examine the archbishop's testimony before deciding on whether or not he is a potential suspect.
Other members of the Rwandan Roman Catholic Church have been accused of playing a significant role in the planned extermination. A Belgian court convicted two Roman Catholic nuns in 2001 and a Roman Catholic priest is currently on trial at the UN International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda.
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