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30 Jan 2009 16:17
A former rebel fighter told International Criminal Court (ICC) judges on Friday that children fought shoulder-to-shoulder with hardened combatants in Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga’s forces.
Testifying in Lubanga’s war crimes trial for allegedly using hundreds of child soldiers in the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the anonymous witness said: “I was in the brigade. I saw children.”
“Children were deployed in companies, battalions, brigades and platoons.
They were like soldiers.”
His name withheld and his face and voice electronically distorted on screens relaying the proceedings to the public, the witness said he had fought for the military wing of Lubanga’s Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC).
He said he saw children, some of whom he trained himself, shoot at enemy forces.
“If the commander gave the order, everyone had to fire, even the children,” he testified for the prosecution.
Lubanga (48) has pleaded not guilty to using children under the age of 15 to fight for his militia during the five-year DRC civil war, which ended in 2003.
The prosecution alleges that Lubanga’s role in the conflict was driven by a desire to maintain and expand control over the eastern Ituri region, one of the world’s most lucrative gold-mining areas, where inter-ethnic fighting has claimed 60 ,000 lives over the last decade.
It says his militia abducted children as young as 11 from their homes, schools and football fields and took them to military training camps where they were beaten and drugged.
An alleged former child soldier, the prosecution’s first witness in the ICC’s maiden trial which started on Monday, retracted his testimony on Wednesday after having told the court he was recruited by “Thomas Lubanga’s soldiers” as a schoolboy.—Sapa-AFP
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