DRC militia leader faces court

Thomas Lubanga, head of an armed militia that rampaged through northeast DRC, had been wanted by The Hague-based ICC for trial on three counts, accused of having recruited and conscripted as soldiers youngsters under the age of 15 and forced them into active combat.
Soldiers under his command are accused not just of murder, torture and rape, but also of mutilating their victims, our correspondent says.
In one massacre, human rights groups say, Mr Lubanga’s militiamen killed civilians using a sledgehammer.
His appearance before the world’s only permanent war crimes court was a formality, in which the ICC ensured Lubanga was informed of the charges against him and made aware of his right to request bail before trial.

“I am Thomas Lubanga Dyilo. I was born on December 29, 1960… and I’m a professional politician,” the tall Congolese in a dark suit with a blue shirt and yellow-gold tie told the court.

“We have been informed of our rights,” he said to the judge, Claude Jorda of France, adding that he was using the “royal we”.

Lubanga was transferred to the ICC’s remand centre near The Hague on Friday, after being flown there on Friday from custody in the DRC capital Kinshasa.

He was arrested in March last year after DRC President Joseph Kabila asked the ICC to investigate war crimes committed in the vast central African state, which emerged from a five-year conflict in 2003.

The defence lawyer temporarily assigned to Lubanga, Jean Flamme of Belgium, asked to be given a copy of the arrest warrant issued in Kinshasa against his client, whom he said was held there for more than a year without knowing the charges against him.

Judge Jorda set down June 27 as the date for the next public hearing, when the two sides will debate the contents of the charge sheet.

Lubanga headed the ethnic Hema Union of Congolese Patriots and its military wing the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo, one of several armed groups active in the northeastern Ituri region of DRC.

Ituri has for years been the scene of devastating clashes between rival militias and inter-ethnic violence, often fuelled by competition for control over the region’s gold and other mineral resources.

Since 1999, fighting between the militias and violence between the Hema and Lendu tribes have caused more than 60,000 deaths in the region, according to humanitarian groups.

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