Rwandan prison authorities began releasing on Friday what they say will amount to 36,000 detainees, many of whom have confessed to taking part in the country's 1994 genocide.
"I am extremely delighted to be leaving this prison," said Jean Baptiste Hakizimana a newly-released detainee who had confessed to killing his neighbor in 1994.
"I hope never to return," he added.
Some of those released appeared to be sick, others elderly. Many were children when they were imprisoned.
Few have ever been put on trial. Some have already served more than the maximum sentence they could have received under trial. However, Rwanda's chief prosecutor, Jean de Dieu Mucyo, said that the release was not an amnesty. He said those who were accused would have to face charges in the local 'gacaca' courts. These courts were set up to speed up trials and clear the backlog of cases of tens of thousands of accused persons.
About half of the people suspected of participating in the killing of some 937,000 Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus still remain in prison.
Those released will now spend six weeks in government "solidarity camps", in preparation for their reintegration into society.
In 2003, up to 24,000 inmates were released under a presidential decree. Another 4,000 were released the following year.
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