A Rwandan doctor went on trial in France on Tuesday on charges of committing genocide and crimes against humanity during Rwanda's 1994 massacres, after a three-decade investigation by French authorities.
Sixty-eight-year-old Sosthene Munyemana appeared before the Assize Court in the French capital nearly 30 years after a complaint was filed against him in the southwestern French city of Bordeaux in 1995.
The former gynaecologist, accused of organising torture and killings during the genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda, took to the stand and expressed his "compassion" for the families of the genocide victims.
"This is the first time that I've had the opportunity to speak publicly since this affair began," he said, wearing a blue striped shirt and a grey jacket. "It's also the moment to think of these families."
Munyemana, who denies the charges against him, faces life in prison if convicted.
The trial, scheduled to last five weeks, will be recorded for historical archives. Nearly 70 witnesses are expected to testify.
It is the sixth trial in France of an alleged participant in the massacres, in which around 800,000 people, most of them ethnic Tutsis, were slaughtered over 100 days by Hutu soldiers and extremist militias, according to UN figures.
- 'Waiting for justice' -
"We're waiting for justice to be done at last," Rachel Lindon, a lawyer representing 26 victims, said ahead of the trial.
"The more time passes, the fewer witnesses we have," she added.
Judge Marc Sommerer chalked up the length of the investigation to factors including the "need to carry out investigations abroad" and that France only set up a crimes against humanity unit in 2012.
In 2008, France rejected an asylum request by Munyemana, who worked in a hospital at Villeneuve-sur-Lot in southwest France for a decade.
But it also in 2010 rejected an extradition request from Rwanda after Munyemana's lawyers argued he could not receive a fair trial there.
In 2011, a French court charged the father-of-three on suspicion of taking part in the 1994 genocide.
An ethnic Hutu, he lived in Butare in southern Rwanda at the time.
Munyemana was close to Jean Kambanda, the head of the interim government established after the plane carrying then-president Juvenal Habyarimana was shot down by a missile in 1994.
On Tuesday, Munyemana said he hadn't been aware of the radicalisation of his friend who lived in Kigali and he saw occasionally.
"When we met, it was more for family reasons," he said.
"If he radicalised at the end of November 1993, I didn't know it because we didn't see each other again until June 19" the following year, the date which Kambanda went to his home to check up on him, he said.
A lawyer representing a civil society group retorted that Kambanda had called Munyemana one of his supporters.
"Just because Kambanda said it doesn't mean we must believe it," Munyemana said.
With a hoarse voice, he assured the court that he had no antagonism with ethnic Tutsis and recalled his father taking in a Tutsi when he was a child.
He also described a former Tutsi teacher having taken him "under his arm" and helping him succeed in school.
- 'Well-known man' -
Munyemana is accused of helping draft a letter of support for the interim government, which encouraged the massacre of the Tutsis.
He is also accused of helping set up roadblocks to round up people and keeping them in inhumane conditions in local government offices before their execution.
Munyemana argues that the government offices to which he held the key served as a "refuge" for Tutsis who were seeking protection.
One of Munyemana's lawyers, Jean-Yves Dupeux, has argued that the case "rests only" on decades-old witness accounts.
France has been one of the top destinations for fugitives fleeing justice over the Rwandan slaughter.
Rwanda under President Paul Kagame has accused Paris of not being willing to extradite genocide suspects or bring them to justice.
Since 2014, France has tried and convicted six figures including a former spy chief, two ex-mayors and a former hotel chauffeur.