Congo hands first suspect to Hague war crimes court

By Wendel Broere

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – A Congolese militia leader accused of
conscripting and enlisting children aged under 15 for warfare
became the first suspect sent for trial at the International
Criminal Court (ICC), the court said on Friday.

Thomas Lubanga Dyilo left Congo aboard a French military
plane and is expected to arrive in The Hague later. He will be
taken to a temporary detention center in the Dutch city.

“Thomas Lubanga must answer for war crimes,” the ICC said
in a statement.

Lubanga, leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC),
an ethnic militia now registered as a political party, stands
accused of widespread human rights abuses in eastern Congo’s
lawless Ituri district.

The controversial ICC was set up as the first permanent
global war crimes court to try individuals, and Lubanga is the
first suspect to be delivered into its custody.

The ICC issued its first warrants last year for five
leaders of Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which also
operates in northeast Congo. It has launched investigations
into war crimes in Congo and Sudan’s Darfur region.

The United States opposes the new court, fearing it will be
abused for politically motivated cases against its troops and
citizens.

ONLY THE BEGINNING

Lubanga, 45, stands accused of three counts of war crimes
carried out from July 2002, but could face more charges.

Senior U.N. officials said earlier that Lubanga, who is due
to appear in court next week, was suspected of ordering the
February 2005 killing of nine United Nations peacekeepers, but
the court’s arrest warrant made no mention of the incident.

“This is not the end of the investigation into the UPC and
into the Congo. The investigation is sequential. We are doing
one at a time and this is just the beginning,” a spokesman for
ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said. “The prosecutor expects
to raise other charges at a later stage.”

Other militia leaders have already been arrested on
suspicion of killing the Bangladeshi U.N. soldiers.

Lubanga’s UPC, dominated by the Hema ethnic group, stands
accused of widespread human rights violations in Ituri, where a
range of foreign and local militias have raped, looted and
murdered civilians during and since Congo’s 1998-2003 war.

The ICC said there “were reasonable grounds to believe
Lubanga had committed the following war crimes: conscripting
and enlisting children under the age of 15 years and using them
to participate actively in hostilities.”

Lubanga was arrested in March 2005 in the Congolese capital
Kinshasa, where he had moved more than a year earlier and
registered the UPC as a political party.

His arrest was part of a U.N. crackdown after the deadly
attack on its peacekeepers the previous month.

U.N. military sources said Lubanga was suspected of
ordering the attack. Other militia leaders also accused of
involvement have been arrested and detained in Kinshasa.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed during years
of militia violence in Ituri, one of Congo’s most violent
areas.

In all, the war and subsequent militia violence is
estimated to have killed 4 million Congolese, mostly through
hunger and disease caused by the conflict.

Helped by 17,000 U.N. troops and police — the world body’s
biggest peacekeeping force — the former Belgian colony the
size of Western Europe is racing to organize its first national
democratic elections in four decades on June 18.

But it faces huge problems with continued militia fighting,
chaos and dissent in the new national army and difficulties in
organizing voting in places with no roads or communications
after decades of war and mismanagement.

(Additional reporting by Willy Kabwe in Kinshasa)

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