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Page last updated at 18:58 GMT, Friday, 30 January 2009

Witness 'trained child soldiers'

Thomas Lubanga at the ICC, 26 Jan 2009 (image courtesy of the ICC)
Mr Lubanga denies the charges

The International Criminal Court in The Hague has heard from a man who says he trained children to use Kalashnikovs for DR Congo warlord Thomas Lubanga.

The unnamed former militia fighter was giving evidence at Mr Lubanga's trial for war crimes allegedly committed during the five-year civil conflict.

He said Mr Lubanga had told child recruits in his camp: "Do not be afraid. The war will not be difficult."

Mr Lubanga denies using hundreds of child soldiers during the war.

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

He is the first person to be tried at the ICC.

'Fighting and dying'

Taking the stand on Friday, the unnamed former fighter said he had joined Mr Lubanga's militia, the Union of Congolese Patriots, in 2002 after militia commanders threatened to burn his village if the young people did not join its ranks.

THOMAS LUBANGA
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

He said that children had been among the group that went with them to a training camp.

The militia made him an instructor since he had already served in the DR Congolese army, in which he had served seven months as a child soldier in 1997, at the age of 13.

He taught children to shoot and the basics of combat, he said.

Underage children were often assigned to officers as armed "bodyguards or escorts", he said.

"Children were deployed in companies, battalions, brigades and platoons. They were like soldiers."

Eventually, the witness added, he saw children fighting and dying in several battles.

"If the commander gave the order, everyone had to fire, even the children," he testified.

The first witness at the trial retracted his testimony after first saying he had been recruited by Mr Lubanga's fighters on his way home from school.

The prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, asked for an investigation into whether the witness, who was also unidentified, feared for his personal safety after the trial.

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