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DR Congo war crimes trial begins
Two men accused of murder, rape and using child soldiers go on trial in The Hague.
Last Modified: 24 Nov 2009 21:36 GMT
Interethnic violence in DR Congo has claimed the lives of 60,000 people since 1999, NGOs say [EPA]

Two Congolese men accused of directing an attack on a village, during which at least 200 people were killed, women raped and child soldiers allegedly recruited, have gone on trial in The Hague.

Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui appeared at the International Criminal Court on Tuesday, facing charges of seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The men, who pleaded not guilty, stand accused over an attack by their forces on the village of Bogoro in Democratic Republic of Congo's northeastern Ituri region in February 2003.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the court's chief prosecutor, said the pair were "responsible for some of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community".

"They used children as soldiers, they killed more than 200 civilians in a few hours, they raped women; girls and the elderly, they looted the entire village and they transformed women into sex slaves," he said.

"Some were shot dead in their sleep, some cut up by machetes to save bullets. Others were burned alive after their houses were set on fire by the attackers."

'Killing without distinction'

Katanga, 31, an ethnic Ngiti, is said to have commanded the Patriotic Resistance Force (FRPI), while Ngudjolo, 39, a Lendu, is accused of being the former leader of the National Integrationist Front (FNI).

"The plan was to wipe out Bogoro. They killed without distinction"

Luis Moreno-Ocampo, ICC chief prosecutor

The prosecution say more than 1,000 fighters from both groups, including child soldiers, entered Bogoro in the early hours of February 24, six years ago.

"The plan was to wipe out Bogoro. They killed without distinction," Moreno-Ocampo said.

Until the attack, Bogoro had been controlled by rival Thomas Lubanga's Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), blocking FRPI and FNI fighters and camps from the road to the key city of Bunia.

Lubanga's own war crimes trial, the ICC's first, started in January.

Defence lawyers disputed whether Katanga or Ngudjolo were actually the commanders of the groups at the time of the attack and suggested both the governments' of Uganda and DR Congo had much to gain from the violence.

'Clear conscience'

David Hooper, Katanga's lawyer, said that his client's role during the conflict "was merely to defend his own people", accusing Uganda of fuelling the violence through its "plunder" of the natural resources.

"The defence disputes that Germain Katanga ... planned the attack or that he participated in it," Hooper said.

Jean-Pierre Kilenda, the defence counsel for Ngudjolo, said his client had a "clear conscience" and "was never involved personally or through intermediaries in the attack on Bogoro".

Non-governmental bodies say that inter-ethnic and militia violence in Ituri, largely over control of the area's gold mines, has claimed 60,000 lives since 1999.

Katanga was handed over to the ICC by the Democratic Republic of Congo government in October 2007, while Ngudjolo was arrested and transferred to The
Hague in February 2008.

The two defence teams will give their opening statements later on Tuesday.

Source:
Agencies
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