Militiamen welcome their trial
The Hague - Lawyers for two Congolese militiamen accused of seeking to wipe out a village blocking a strategic route in an ethnic war, welcomed their trial starting in The Hague on Tuesday as a step towards "the truth".
Germain Katanga, 31, and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui, 39, stand accused about an attack by their forces on the village of Bogoro in Democratic Republic of Congo's north eastern Ituri region that killed 200 people in February 2003.
"We are all seeking the same thing, we are all seeking the truth," Katanga's lawyer, Andreas O'Shea, told journalists on Monday, adding that his client "shares and sympathises with the grief of the victims of the war in the DRC".
The men face ten counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including using child soldiers to murder, maim and pillage.
According to fellow defence lawyer Jean-Pierre Kilenda, co-accused Ngudjolo "is at last happy to... provide the international community with the explanations it has been wanting".
Ngudjolo, he added, was "also a victim" and had had no part in the alleged crimes. "We are hoping that all the evidence... will be able to ascertain the truth".
Erase the village
The prosecution says more than 1 000 fighters of Katanga's Patriotic Resistance Force (FRPI) and Ngudjolo's Nationalist and Integrationist Front (FNI) entered Bogoro on February 24 six years ago "with one communicated and agreed goal: to erase the village".
Until the attack, the town had been controlled by rival Thomas Lubanga's Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), blocking FRPI and FNI fighters and camps from the road to the key city of Bunia.
"They (militia) killed more than 200 persons," prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo told the press conference.
"The women of the Hema community were raped before they were killed. They pillaged the entire village. They kept some women as sex slaves."
Katanga and Ngudjolo are both of Lendu ethnicity, while the Bogoro inhabitants were mostly Hema.
Non-governmental bodies claim that inter-ethnic and militia violence in Ituri is about control of the area's gold mines, and has claimed 60 000 lives since 1999.