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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 March, 2005, 17:06 GMT
New court hears DR Congo case
By Geraldine Coughlan
BBC News, The Hague

Lendu militia fighter outside Bunia in Congo
The court is investigating alleged mass killings in the DRC
Judges at the International Criminal Court in The Hague have held their first hearing.

The session focused on the inquiry into war crimes allegedly committed in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The hearing is the first time the judges are to consider formally a specific war crimes investigation.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is the world's first permanent tribunal for trying cases involving genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The court came into existence nearly three years ago, despite strong opposition from the US. Washington says it fears its troops could become the target of politically motivated prosecutions.

Setting the tone

Judges at Tuesday's session discussed issues related to the protection of victims and witnesses and the preservation of evidence.

The chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, opened the first official investigation last year into alleged mass killings, rapes and torture in DR Congo.

Last week, he challenged the judges' authority to hold this hearing.

But they dismissed his objections to a request to hand over confidential documents, which he said would threaten the impartiality of the court.

The procedural hearing will be held in closed session with no members of the press or public allowed to attend.

It is expected that this so-called status conference will set the tone for hearings in other investigations, such as the ongoing inquiry into alleged atrocities in Uganda.

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