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Hague prosecutor: Congo warlord used children to kill
Mon Jan 26, 2009 6:09am EST
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By Aaron Gray-Block
THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga trained child soldiers to kill, pillage and rape during the region's bloody 1998-2003 conflict, a war crimes prosecutor said at the start of his trial on Monday.
Lubanga pleaded not guilty at the start of the first trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC), which became the first permanent war crimes court when it was set up in 2002.
Founder and leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) in Congo's eastern Ituri district, Lubanga is accused of enlisting and conscripting children under 15 to kill ethnic Lendus in a 1998-2003 war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
ICC prosecutors say child soldiers recruited by the UPC were involved in hostilities between October 2002 and June 2003 and that some of them were forced to kill and that others lost their lives in combat.
In an opening address to the court, chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said Lubanga committed the most serious crimes of concern to the international community, crimes against children.
"Lubanga's armed group, recruited and trained hundreds of children to kill, pillage and rape. Hundreds of children still suffer the consequences of Lubanga's crimes. They cannot forget what they suffered, what they did, what they saw," he said.
"They cannot forget the beatings they suffered, they cannot forget the terror they felt and the terror they inflicted. They cannot forget the sounds of the machine guns, they cannot forget that they killed. They cannot forget that they raped, that they were raped."
Moreno-Ocampo added that some of the child soldiers are now using drugs to survive, some became prostitutes, some are orphans and some of them jobless.
"At this stage, our client would like to plead not guilty," Catherine Mabille, lead defense lawyer, told the court.
More than 30,000 children were recruited during the DRC conflict, many given marijuana and told they were protected by witchcraft, according to Bukeni Waruzi, the Africa and Middle East coordinator for human rights group Witness.
Lubanga's trial had been due to start in June 2008, but judges suspended it on concerns that Lubanga might be denied a fair trial because the defense was unable to view some evidence against him.
The matter was resolved in November when prosecutors began releasing documents to the defense that had been provided on condition of confidentiality to protect sources in war zones.
But some procedural measures are still pending and Judge Adrian Fulford told the court a closed session will be held with prosecutors in the afternoon to discuss redactions to documents relating to the court's decision to lift the trial suspension.
Lubanga, dressed in a dark suit and red tie, also formally had his charges read aloud to him at the start of the trial. Continued...
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