, KINSHASA, Jan 23 – The first to enter the dock of the International Criminal Court, Thomas Lubanga is accused of having recruited hundreds of child soldiers for his Congolese militia group.
Now 48, the ethnic Hema tradesman made a living selling basic foodstuffs before becoming a feared warlord heading one of six armed groups vying for control of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s gold-rich Ituri region since the turn of the century.
The region has been rent by a years-long conflict between the Hema and Lendu ethnic groups that make up 40 percent of the population of northeastern region.
The tall and thin Lubanga quickly emerged as charismatic leader and "protector" of his community at the head of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), which with its armed wing FPLC seized several key mining zones in Ituri.
According to the prosecution, Lubanga "encouraged Hema families to give their children" to the UPC, and deployed them in combat between September 2002 and August 2003.
The armed group is accused of numerous massacres of ethnic Lendu civilians in 2002 and 2003, mainly in his stronghold Bunia, the capital of Ituri.
Lubanga fled Bunia after a European Union force was deployed in June 2003 to halt the bloodshed.
He reappeared in Kinshasa in 2004, where he stayed in a hotel while awaiting his promotion to the rank of general — a promise made by the government to militia chiefs who had agreed to lay down arms.
But a resumption of violence in Ituri and the murder of nine UN peacekeepers in February 2005 prompted Lubanga’s arrest by Congolese authorities the following month.
From prison in Kinshasa, the affluent and influential Lubanga is alleged to have remained in control of the operations of the UPC.
He was arrested on an ICC warrant a year later and transferred to The Hague.