Testimony in the trial of Thomas Lubanga took a turn on Wednesday as a witness suggested that Lubanga may not have had as much military control of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) militia as previously stated.
Continuing his testimony from yesterday, a former UPC soldier known as Witness 17 told judges that he never saw Lubanga issue commands to UPC soldiers. Instead, that was the duty of UPC chief of staff Floribert Kisembo.
Cross-examining the witness, Lubanga’s defense lawyer Catherine Mabille asked the witness about his earlier statement that Kisembo “knows everything” when it came to military affairs, and that, “the army almost belonged to him.”
The witness explained, “I noticed in the UPC, Kisembo’s influence was great in the army, especially in relation to commander Thomas (Lubanga). In the army we felt the influence of Kisembo. He was very influential. Nobody talked about the influence of (Lubanga).”
Witness 17 told the court that Lubanga was a political figure within the UPC and that, “the army was slightly not within his purview.” He had only seen Lubanga once in military fatigues, and was surprised by the sight, he said.
“(Lubanga) was a political figure. We called him president,” the witness said. “It was true he could put on a military uniform, like camouflage, if his security was in danger, but in Bunia this was not usual. We were not used to it”.
Witness 17 also told the court that Lubanga may not have seen child soldiers when he visited Epo, a training camp in Bunia.
Lubanga arrived at the camp in a vehicle, which distinguished him as a high-ranking UPC official, and soldiers were stationed in the roads and trenches around the camp to ensure his safety, he said.
“To receive a person like the president, one often greets them with respect, but this wasn’t done on this occasion. There were no troops to meet him. It is not probable that there were child soldiers there. I don’t think it is likely he saw any child soldiers.”
Presiding Judge Adrian Fulford thanked the witness for coming to the court to testify. The trial continues tomorrow.