L aredo, Texas… [ANN] Former Seventh-day Adventist pastor Elizaphan Ntakirutimana arrested in September 1996 was released on December 17, 1997, by a federal magistrate in Laredo, Texas, U.S.A. Ntakirutimana, now 73 years old, was held to answer charges of genocide in Rwanda in 1994 made by a United Nations tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania.

Judge Marcel Notzon ruled that Ntakirutimana could not be extradited since the U.N. tribunal’s jurisdiction was not recognized because of the absence of a treaty.

A Reuters news report quotes the judge as saying that the case against the Ntakirutimana was weak and full of legal irregularities, and that "the possibility of inaccuracy or incredibility in the witness statements is high."

Ntakirutimana’s lawyer, Ramsey Clark, former U.S. attorney general, said that the charges against his client are false and motivated by revenge.

"He’s a man that in all his life has never had any charge of violence against him, but because he’s a Hutu and in a position of power, the Tutsis are saying he’s guilty of genocide," Clark told the Associated Press last July.

The pre-Christmas release decision was welcomed by the family and friends of the former pastor. Ntakirutimana’s son Elieli is a medical doctor working in the Laredo area.

However, the U.S. State Department expressed disappointment at the release, calling it "a serious matter" and indicated they may seek further legal proceedings. A United Nations spokesman indicated they would have liked to see Ntakirutimana handed over since the tribunal had found reason to indict him.

The position of the Seventh-day Adventist Church remains unchanged. Speaking at the time of his arrest, Emmanuel Nlo Nlo, Communication director for the Church’s Africa-Indian Ocean Division, made it clear that the Adventist Church condemns violence and also that guilt must be proven.

"The Seventh-day Adventist Church does not support killing in any form," said Nlo Nlo. "We have no way of knowing whether Elizaphan Ntakirutimana is guilty or not. We are supportive of the initiative of the United Nations and the Rwandan government to bring to justice those who are responsible for those illegal activities in that country’s crisis."

Speaking today at the Church’s World Headquarters in Silver Spring, Lowell Cooper, Associate Secretary confirmed the denomination’s position.

"We reject violence in all forms and were appalled by the massacres that occurred in Rwanda in 1994," said Cooper. "Many Seventh-day Adventists lost their lives in the ethnic violence, which sadly is still a factor today. The Church is supportive of all attempts to bring unity and healing to Rwanda, and is active in humanitarian aid and reconciliation programs. As for Pastor Ntakirutimana, our stance remains that a person is innocent until proven guilty." [Jonathan Gallagher]