Page last updated at 18:46 GMT, Tuesday, 24 November 2009

DR Congo 'warlords' deny atrocities at ICC trial

Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui (L) and Germain Katanga
Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui (L) and Germain Katanga were "top commanders"

Two alleged Congolese militia leaders have denied war crimes at the start of their trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui are accused of directing an attack on the village of Bogoro in 2003 in which more than 200 people were killed.

They face charges of ordering attacks on civilians, sexual slavery, rape, and enlisting child soldiers.

Both deny the allegations and have expressed sympathy for the victims.

'Defending his people'

Chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo opened the case against them saying they had tried to wipe out the village of Bogoro.

Map of DR Congo and Ituri
Germain Katanga: Born 28 April 1978 in Mambassa, Ituri District. Alleged commander of Patriotic Resistance Force of Ituri (FRPI)
Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui: Born 8 October 1970 in Bunia, Ituri District. Alleged leader of National Integrationist Front (FNI)
ICC charges: Seven war crimes, including wilful killing, sexual slavery, attacking civilians, pillaging and using child soldiers
Three crimes against humanity

"Some [villagers] were shot dead in their sleep, some cut up by machetes to save bullets," he said.

"Others were burned alive after their houses were set on fire by the attackers."

He described the two defendants as "the top commanders of the troops that killed, raped and pillaged".

"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," he said.

The two men listened to all the charges against them and pleaded not guilty to each one.

Mr Katanga's lawyer claimed that his client was "merely defending his own people" and played no part in the Bogoro attack.

Mr Ngudjolo's counsel also said his client had not been involved at Bogoro and that he had a "clear conscience".

Continuing unrest

It is only the second trial at the ICC in The Hague. The first case - of Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga - began in 2008 but has been delayed by legal argument.

Mr Lubanga's Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) militia had controlled Bogoro until the other militias attacked.

Mr Katanga and Mr Ngudjolo are accused of leading ethnic Lendu and Ngiti fighters against the UPC.

Prosecutors says their goal was to "erase" the village, mainly populated by ethnic Hema, in the mineral-rich Ituri province of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Prosecutors plan to call 26 witnesses, although 21 of them will testify hidden from public view for fear of reprisals.

The trial is expected to take several months.

The conflict in Ituri was part of a war that raged in DR Congo following the 1994 genocide in neighbouring Rwanda and involved troops and fighters from several neighbouring countries.

Militia leaders from all sides have been accused of using the conflict to profit from the region's mineral reserves, especially gold.

Campaign group Human Rights Watch has called on the ICC to also investigate officials from DR Congo, Rwanda and Uganda, accusing them of arming rival militias in Ituri.

The Ituri conflict ended after the intervention of European Union peacekeepers.

The wider DR Congo conflict officially ended in 2003 but much of the east remains unstable.

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