An attempt by a rich family in Bunia to drive ethnic Lendu from their land sparked the Ituri region’s bloody ethnic conflict, according to testimony on Wednesday.
Continuing his testimony from the previous day, a former political leader in Ituri told the Lubanga trial that the Savo family, ethnic Hema who were financial backers of Lubanga’s militia, used Ugandan soldiers to torch houses belonging to the Lendu.
Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga, who faces charges at the International Criminal Court for conscripting and using child soldiers, belongs to the Hema ethnic group in the Ituri district of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The witness, who recalled seeing a village near Libi on fire as early as 1999, said the Savo family contacted Ugandan forces in the region at the time. “The (Ugandan) commander present gave his authorization and asked his soldiers to remove (Lendu) forcefully,” he said.
“It’s the Savo family at the origin of the conflict with the support of Ugandans who started burning Lendu houses,” he said. “The Lendu fled to the bush, but after six months they came back.”
When the Lendu returned, they were armed and this was when the ethnic conflict escalated.
Responding to the Lendu attacks, the Hemas then formed armed militias such as Lubanga’s Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), the witness said.
Under questioning by Jean Chrysostome Mulamba, a legal representative for victims at the trial, the witness said the UPC collected taxes on goods entering the region, collected dues in markets, and got contributions from traders. Uganda also gave financial aid to Lubanga’s group, he said.
Lubanga’s defense team, led by Jean-Marie Biju-Duval, began cross-examination on Wednesday, but most of it was in closed session.