Militia leader Thomas Lubanga to plead not guilty

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The trial of Thomas Lubanga, former leader of the armed group UPC (Union of Congolese Patriots) in Ituri, north-eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, opened Monday in the Hague. Thomas Lubanga is accused of kidnapping, training and using child soldiers in combats between September 2002 and August 2003.

Children aged 10 to 14 had been snatched from the streets of Ituri on their way to school and forced to fight for Mr Thomas Lubanga’s ethnic Hema militia against their Lendu rivals in Congo.

According to reports from human rights groups in Congo, more than 40,000 children were recruited during the fighting which saw some 60,000 people lose their lives.

Thomas Lubanga was a leader of an anti-government militia and its armed wing; the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) that waged a five year-long war against the Congolese government and a rival tribe over mineral wealth. The fighting ended in 2003.

Mr. Lubanga is now facing war crimes and crimes against humanity and the use of child soldiers. On Monday in the Hague, The International crime Court will hear his case.

The trial which was to begin June last year had been postponed due to the inability of both the defence and prosecution to reach an agreement over legal procedures including disputed evidences demanded for by the International Crime Court in the Hague.

He is expected to plead not-guilty.

Mr. Lubanga is said to have toughened the children with marijuana and told them that they were protected by witchcraft. He used some of them to kill members of a rival ethnic group, and some he uses as his bodyguards.

The accused, who still has strong support among his Hema community in Ituri, claims he was only trying to bring peace to Ituri, a region in eastern Congo.

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