December 13, 2006
Father Athanase Seromba, former priest in charge of Nyaange parish, appears in court in Arusha, Tanzania, in November 2004.
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) -- A Catholic priest was convicted Wednesday of participating in Rwanda's 1994 genocide by ordering militiamen to set fire to a church and then bulldoze it while 2,000 people were huddled inside.
Athanase Seromba, sitting before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, was sentenced to 15 years in prison, although he will get credit for the four years he has served. The tribunal is based in Arusha, Tanzania.
According to the charge sheet, Seromba directed a militia that "attacked with traditional arms and poured fuel through the roof of the church, while gendarmes and communal police launched grenades and killed the refugees."
After failing to kill all the people inside, Seromba ordered the demolition of the church, the document said.
Thousands of Rwandans have turned away from Catholicism, angered and saddened by the complicity of church officials in the 100-day genocide, in which more than 500,000 minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed by Hutu extremists.
Priests, nuns and followers were implicated in the killings, and some churches became sites of notorious massacres.
Rwanda's genocide began hours after a plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana was shot down as it approached the capital, Kigali, on the evening of April 6, 1994. The slaughter ended after rebels, led by current President Paul Kagame, ousted the extremist Hutu government that had orchestrated the slaughter.
About 63,000 genocide suspects are detained in Rwanda, and justice authorities say that at least 761,000 people should stand trial for their role in the slaughter and chaos that came with it. The suspects represent 9.2 percent of Rwanda's estimated 8.2 million people. The U.N. tribunal in Tanzania is trying those only accused of masterminding the genocide.
Last month, the tribunal sentenced a Catholic nun to 30 years in jail for helping militias kill hundreds of people hiding in a hospital. In 2001, two Catholic nuns were convicted by a Belgian court of aiding and abetting the murders.