'Terminator' the good guy, court told

2015-09-03 17:21
Bosco Ntaganda (Alain Wandimoyi, AP/File)

Bosco Ntaganda (Alain Wandimoyi, AP/File)

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The Hague - Lawyers for militia leader Bosco Ntaganda sought on Thursday to counter a portrayal of their client as cruel and bloodthirsty, saying he was a professional soldier who had tried to protect civilians from chaos and disorder in Congo in the early 2000s.

Accounts of rape and massacres in northeast Congo have dominated the first two days of his trial, with prosecutors saying Ntaganda gathered a guerrilla army to strengthen his allies and corner the region's mineral resources for himself.

But his lawyers at the International Criminal Court said he acted to protect civilians in Ituri province from other militias during the power vacuum in Congo that followed the 1997 toppling of President Mobutu Seke Seso.

"The Union of Congolese Patriots' (UPC) aim was to take political and military control of Ituri and to protect the population from attacks," said defence counsel Luc Boutin.

Earlier, a lawyer for victims had described how girls as young as 12 were forced to serve as "wives" to senior officers in the UPC or were forced to be sexually available to soldiers.

Ntaganda, who watched proceedings impassively, was due to take the floor later on Thursday.

Prosecutors at the court have accused him of standing by as ethnic Hema troops under his command raped and massacred ethnic Lendu civilians who lived on land rich in oil, diamonds and gold which he wanted for himself, and of raping child soldiers.

One 13-year-old said falling pregnant with the child of a senior commander was a "relief" from the daily round of sexual favours she otherwise had to offer fighters, Pellet said.

Stephane Bougon, Ntaganda's lead counsel, said the political, military and social context of the region portrayed his actions in a different light.

People as old as 40 could be referred to as "child" in the region, he said, while describing Ntaganda as a commander implied a level of operational control he did not possess.

Before he gave himself up in 2013 after seven years on the run, Ntaganda fought for 15 years in wars that killed some 5 million people in the Democratic Republic of Congo over the past two decades.

UN experts have said the M23 rebels he fought alongside were backed by Rwanda, a charge Kigali has always denied.

Born in Rwanda but raised in Congo, he began his military career alongside Tutsi rebels who seized control of Rwanda in 1994, bringing to an end the genocide in which 800 000 died.

Read more on:    international criminal court  |  bosco ntaganda  |  drc  |  central africa

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