Rwandan priest facing war crimes allegations flees public eye

 Mystery hangs over the whereabouts of a Rwandan Catholic priest living in Italy, wanted by the international war crimes tribunal over allegations that he collaborated in the Rwandan genocide. Last week three Rwandans were arrested in Belgium, Switzerland, and the Netherlands on charges relating to the 1994 massacres. But the Italian government refused to hand over a fourth suspect, who legal sources identified as Fr Athanasius Seromba. Fr Seromba, 38, had been due to say Mass on Sunday in San Mauro a Signa, a village near Florence. Earlier he had promised that he would talk about his experiences during the Rwandan massacres. Instead another priest took his place and Fr Seromba has not been seen since. When Fr Seromba did not arrive, media reports immediately suggested that the church was hiding him. Mgr Giuseppe Andreozzi, from the Italian Bishops Conference denied this, telling the Missionary News Service that Fr Seromba had been moved to protect him from the media. He said: "Without a shadow of a doubt, complete solidarity must go to the victims of the massacres and whoever is responsible for such atrocities should be brought to justice, but it is also true that accusations forwarded against members of the Rwandan Catholic Church have often turned out completely unfounded." African Rights, a London-based human rights organisation, say they are certain Fr Seromba did participate in the 1994 extermination of 800,000 minority Tutsis by the ruling Hutu tribe. The organisation says it has evidence from survivors who saw the priest, a Hutu, herding up to 2,500 Tutsi parishioners into his church at Nyange, before ordering bulldozers to crush them. Fr Seromba has lived in Italy since the war and has served at San Mauro a Signa for the past 18 months. Parishioners told a BBC reporter that he was a well-liked, energetic and cheerful priest and they found it hard to believe he could have participated in the massacres. The Rwandan war crimes tribunal was in disarray last night, after four members were suspended when it was discovered that they were under investigation for taking part in the 1994 atrocities.

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