| Colonel Kibibi was accused of ordering his troops to attack the village of Fizi where 62 women were raped [EPA]
A court in the Democratic Republic of Congo has sentenced an army colonel to 20 years in prison, convicting him of crimes against humanity in the most prominent sexual violence case ever held in the country where thousands are brutally raped each year.
The mobile court held in the lakeside village of Baraka on Monday marks the first time that a commanding officer has been tried for such a crime.
Prosecutors had sought the death penalty for Lieutenant-Colonel Mutuare Daniel Kibibi, 46, who was accused of ordering his troops on New Year's Day to attack the village of Fizi where doctors later treated 62 women for rape.
One woman testified that Kibibi himself raped her for 40 minutes.
As the defendants were being led away in handcuffs, hundreds of people jeered at them, booed and shook their fists. Some shouted, "Kibibi! You thought you could get away with this! Now you are going to jail!" and "You must pay for your crimes!"
Four counts of crimes
Kibibi was convicted of four counts of crimes against humanity but will serve no more than 20 years in prison.
Three of his officers received the same sentences, and five others got lesser sentences. One man was acquitted and another, a minor, will be tried in juvenile court.
Kibibi, who is married with eight children, denies all the charges and says the court testimony by his bodyguards was all part of a plot to denigrate him.
Rape has long been used as a brutal weapon of war in eastern DRC, where soldiers and various militia groups use sexual violence to intimidate, punish and control the population.
At least 8,300 rapes were committed in 2009, and aid workers say the victims have even included a month-old baby boy and elderly women.
Activists said they hoped Kibibi's trial would serve as a warning to others who are brutally attacking civilians.
"Unquestionably, Kibibi and his soldiers are more than a little stunned to find themselves on trial before this groundbreaking domestic mobile court. If word about the court is spread around the country, it could have an enormous impact on deterring future crimes, now that the rule of law is finally being enforced domestically, to at least some extent," Kelly Askin of the Open Society Justice Initiative said.
Laurent Mutata Luaba. the military prosecutor, had demanded death sentences for the five officers accused. He said they "behaved like wild beasts," terrorising and attacking the defenceless civilians they had orders to protect.
Kibibi, he said, must be held responsible for the crimes committed by his troops, under the Statute of Rome that sets the criteria for crimes against humanity.