A former Rwandan army major, convicted in the killings of 10 UN peacekeepers early in the 1994 Rwanda genocide, was sentenced to 20 years in prison by a Belgian court Thursday.


Bernard Ntuyahaga at the final day of his trial at the Palace of Justice in Brussels on Wednesday. ((Thierry Charlier/Associated Press) )

A 12-person jury found Bernard Ntuyahaga guilty of manslaughter on Wednesday for the killings, widely believed to have been the catalyst for a 100-day massacre during which radical Hutus murdered some 500,000 people, mostly ethnic Tutsis.

However, the jury in Brussels did not find that Ntuyahaga, 55, was responsible for murdering Rwanda's prime minister at the time, Agatha Uwilingiyimana. The Belgians were escorting the prime minister to a radio station so she could call for calm after rumours spread that the president had been killed.

Prosecutors at the trial accused Ntuyahaga of blaming the Belgians for shooting down a plane carrying Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana, killing the leader. In fact, the crash has never been explained.

When the Belgians arrived with the prime minister at the radio station, Hutu soldiers opened fire on the group and killed Uwilingiyimana as she tried to escape.

Ntuyahaga then handed the Belgian peacekeepers over to soldiers in a military camp in the capital Kigali. There,thesoldiers executed or beat the peacekeepers to death.

After their brutal murders, Belgium withdrew its 450 peacekeepers and other UN nations involved in the mission soon followed suit. Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt acknowledged during the trial that had the UN peacekeepers remained in Rwanda, they likely could have saved thousands of lives and perhaps prevented the genocide from sparking 13 years ago.

Ntuyahaga's defence lawyer, Luc De Temmerman, had argued during the three-month trial that the murders of the 10 Belgians was nothis client's fault, attributing the killings instead topolitical tensions in Rwanda simmeringsince civil war began in 1990.

Temmerman added Ntuyahaga is likely to appeal the verdict.

Charges brought against Ntuyahaga by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda were dropped in 1999. But Belgium brought charges against him in its courts, and Ntuyahaga voluntarily travelled there to face them.

With files from the Associated Press