Page last updated at 22:10 GMT, Wednesday, 28 January 2009

DR Congo warlord witness retracts

Thomas Lubanga at the ICC, 26 Jan 2009 (image courtesy of the ICC)
Thomas Lubanga insists he was trying to bring peace to the Ituri region

The first witness at the war crimes trial of DR Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga has retracted his testimony at the International Criminal Court.

Testifying from behind a screen, but visible to the defendant, he first said he had been recruited by Mr Lubanga's fighters on his way home from school.

But after a break in proceedings he denied this.

The court in The Hague was adjourned after the prosecution asked for witness safety to be reviewed.

Mr Lubanga, the first person to be tried at the ICC, denies using hundreds of child soldiers in Democratic Republic of Congo's five-year conflict, which ended in 2003.

His trial opened on Monday after a seven-month delay, as judges and prosecutors disputed confidential evidence.

Witness 'concerns'

Correspondents note that while the unnamed boy's identity was concealed from the public gallery, he could be seen by Mr Lubanga, 48, who glared at him as he testified.

Thomas Lubanga in 2003

Leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots, an ethnic Hema militia
Accused of recruiting children under 15 as soldiers
Arrested in Kinshasa in March 2005
Held by the ICC at The Hague since 2006
Born in 1960, has a degree in psychology

Asked by prosecutor Fatou Bensouda whether he had attended a military training camp, he replied "No", and the defendant was seen to give a smile, the AFP news agency reports.

Ms Bensouda then requested, and obtained, a delay of the trial to investigate "concerns the witness has about protective measures... what happens after he gives his testimony and returns home".

"We are convinced it has an effect on the testimony the witness is giving now," she told the three judges.

The witness gave testimony in Swahili from behind a screen to protect him from public view and his voice was electronically distorted.

Earlier, the witness said that "Thomas Lubanga's soldiers" had recruited him one day as he was walking home from school with friends.

Mr Lubanga insists he was trying to bring peace to Ituri, a region in the east wracked by years of conflict between rival groups seeking to control its vast mineral wealth.

Seeking a sentence of up to 30 years, prosecutors say child soldiers enlisted for Mr Lubanga's Hema militia were used to kill members of the rival Lendu ethnic group, or as his bodyguards.

Children were allegedly abducted on their way to school or to sports fields and young girls were taken as sexual slaves by militia commanders as soon as they reached puberty.

The UN says more than 30,000 children were recruited during the fighting, which saw some 60,000 people lose their lives.

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