In The Hague, trial opens for Congo warlord Bosco Ntaganda | News | DW | 02.09.2015
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In The Hague, trial opens for Congo warlord Bosco Ntaganda

The trial of the ex-Congolese leader has opened at the International Criminal Court (ICC). He has been accused of war crimes, including the rape of child soldiers within his own army.

The 41-year-old former commander of rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who turned himself in in 2013, faces 18 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity at his highly-anticipated trial before The Hague-based court.

The Congo militia leader, known as "The Terminator," has pleaded innocent to the charges.

Prosecutors say Ntaganda played a central role in savage ethnic attacks on civilians in the mineral-rich and restive northeastern Congolese province of Ituri between 2002 and 2003, in a conflict rights groups believe has left some 60,000 dead since 1999.

Ntaganda "recruited hundreds of children... and used them to kill and to die in the fighting," ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said. Girl soldiers were "routinely raped," the prosecutor added. Former child soldiers are to give evidence.

"It has taken a very long time for Bosco Ntaganda to arrive in The Hague, actually more than 10 years," International Justice Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch, Geraldine Mattioli-Zeltner, told DW. "But we hope that the opening of this trial will send a signal to others involved in serious crimes in Congo that justice will catch up with them one day."

Prosecutors have collected 8,000 pages of evidence and plan to call some 80 witnesses - 13 of them experts and the rest victims. Three of the victims to take the stand will be former child soldiers in Ntaganda's rebel Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC), their lawyers said.

Kongo Miliz M23 Soldaten

M23 rebel soldiers

Ntaganda's lawyer Stephane Bourgon said his client would seek to prove his innocence before the ICC's judges. "Mr Ntaganda maintains his innocence in respect of every charge laid against him. He intends to present a thorough defense," Bourgon told a press conference at the ICC's fortress-like headquarters in a suburb outside the city.

Ntaganda is "in good shape and is looking forward to having a chance to present his case."

Ntaganda was the founder of the M23 rebel group that was defeated by the Congolese government in late 2013 after an 18-month insurgency in the vast Democratic Republic of Congo's North Kivu region.

He was one of the most-wanted fugitives in Africa's Great Lakes region, until he unexpectedly walked into the US embassy in Rwanda's capital Kigali in March 2013 and asked to be sent to The Hague.

dr/kms (AFP, Reuters)

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