Ocampo kicks off Congo trial

November 24, 2009 12:00 am

, THE HAGUE, Nov 24 – Two Congolese militiamen pleaded not guilty on Tuesday when they were accused of planning to wipe out an entire village as their men killed civilians, raped women and enslaved child soldiers.

"Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui are responsible for some of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community," chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo told judges of the International Criminal Court as the trial opened.

"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."

Katanga, 31, and Ngudjolo, 39, stand accused over an attack by their forces on the village of Bogoro in Democratic Republic of Congo\’s northeastern Ituri region that killed about 200 people in February 2003.

The prosecution says more than 1,000 fighters of Katanga\’s Patriotic Resistance Force in Ituri (FRPI) and Ngudjolo\’s National Integrationist Front (FNI), many of them child soldiers, entered Bogoro in the early morning hours of February 24 six years ago.

"The plan was to wipe out Bogoro," said Moreno-Ocampo.

"They killed without distinction. Some were shot in their sleep. Some were cut up with machetes to preserve bullets. Others were burnt alive after their houses were set alight.

"Troops of the accused first raped and then killed women."

The prosecutor said survivors were taken outside at gunpoint the following day to lure out community members hiding in the bushes.

"When they appeared, these survivors were brutally executed."

The militia had also taken children to swell their ranks of child soldiers, and captured women as sex slaves.

Katanga "boasted" about the operation, which he and Ngudjolo had planned, said Moreno-Ocampo.

"Nothing was spared, absolutely nothing. Chickens, goats, everything. There was nothing left," he quoted Katanga as having said after the attack.

Katanga responded: "I plead not guilty," to each of the 10 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity read out against him as the trial started, a plea echoed count-for-count by his co-accused Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui.

They face charges of murder, rape, sexual slavery, using child soldiers, attacking civilians, pillaging and destruction of property.

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.

Katanga and Ngudjolo are both of Lendu ethnicity, while the Bogoro inhabitants were mostly Hema. Lubanga\’s own war crimes trial, the ICC\’s first, started in January.

Non-governmental bodies claim that inter-ethnic and militia violence in Ituri is about control of the area\’s gold mines, and has claimed 60,000 lives since 1999.

Katanga was surrendered by the DR Congo government to the ICC in October 2007, while Ngudjolo was arrested and transferred to The Hague in February 2008.

Their trial is only the ICC\’s second and its first for murder since opening as the world\’s first permanent and independent war crimes tribunal in 2002.

It has given victim status to 345 people – including 10 former child soldiers – to participate in the trial through two lawyers.

The trial is expected to last several months, with the prosecution set to call 26 witnesses, 19 of whom will benefit from protective measures for their security.

Lawyers representing victims and the defence were set to make opening statements later in the day.


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