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Witness: Children Grabbed from the Streets

A witness in the Thomas Lubanga trial on Friday said children were rounded up from the streets of Bunia and conscripted into the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) militia.

The children ranged from eight- to 15-years-old, he said. Bunia is the largest town in the Ituri region of eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and was the focus of long-term ethnic conflict in 2002-03.

“If we talk about children 14 and below, how many were they?” asked prosecuting attorney Olivia Struyven about the events of one specific day.

“Those who were brought on that day were five … and they were all under the age of 15. There was no doubt about that,” the witness replied.

Judge Adrian Fulford asked the witness whether he knew the age ranges of the children targeted by those who were conscripting them.

“As far as I know, there was actually no age limit in the recruitment of children in the villages or anywhere else,” replied the witness.

“My cousin carried out (conscription) in my village, and I can confirm this among the children who were recruited,” the witness said. “They took just anybody irrespective of age, irrespective of their health situation.”

The witness, whose testimony began on Wednesday, said he was in close contact with UPC leaders including Lubanga, and that he was often present when UPC leaders discussed matters of the group and its militia.

Responding to a question from prosecutors, the witness said that children aged 15 years and younger could easily have represented 30 percent of the total number of recruits at the training center.

The witness said UPC commanders preferred to use children in armed combat because they followed orders.

“They obeyed the orders of their commanders and that they would try to mimic the heroes they see in films,” he said. “They were more determined and active in combat.”

Children under 15 years of age who were injured in combat were often treated at the Mulago Hospital in Kampala, Uganda, he said.

The witness also said UPC chief-of-staff Floribent Kisembo often preached ethnic hatred on a local radio station.

The witness is expected to continue with his testimony on Tuesday, June 2.