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Witness: Lubanga Was Commander-in-Chief

Thomas Lubanga was the minister of defense and commander-in-chief of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), a witness said on Thursday.

As UPC president, Lubanga appointed the group’s ministers and broadcasted their names on the local radio station, he said.

Once the group took control of Bunia, Lubanga named himself the defense minister. “So, he was the political leader of the army,” said the witness.

In that capacity, it “was also clearly stated that he was commander-in-chief of his army,” the witness said. “That is, that there was no other person above him to command the army.”

Continuing his testimony from Wednesday, the witness explained that he was close to the UPC leadership and regularly visited Lubanga’s headquarters.

Child soldiers were among the trainees at the UPC headquarters where Lubanga had his office, and could be seen by visitors, the witness said in response to a question from prosecutor Olivia Struyven.

“So long as the recruits were in the open courtyard,” the witness said, “everyone who went beyond the limit for the public could see what was happening in the inner court of the premises.”

On one occasion at the UPC headquarters office of a person the witness called Mr. A, the witness saw a child soldier being punished as he called out for his mother.

“Apparently this child was angry,” the witness said, “(and) had just been punished. The reaction of those with me, and especially Mr. A and his colleagues, was to say, ‘that is good, he is going to grow up as a true soldier.'”

The instructor who punished the recruit said that his behavior was not appropriate for a soldier.

“This particularly affected me,” the witness said. “A child crying, calling out his mother…. Mr. A and his colleagues, they felt no remorse, no pity for this child undergoing this punishment.”

The witness said although officials from the UN mission in Congo (MONUC) visited the UPC headquarters, they did not have access to the training area. But officers of the Ugandan army regularly did, he said.

The witness also recounted the massacre of members of the Nande and Lendu ethnic groups by UPC militiamen.

After seeing some of these massacres, he told Mr. A to intervene, and provided him with names of people he had seen taking part in the massacres.

While Mr. A promised that he would set up a commission of inquiry and have the perpetrators arrested, “it was very difficult for him,” the witness said.

“Concretely, there was no willingness on their (UPC leadership) part to change the situation, because their idea was that (foreigners) should leave (Ituri),” he said. “I found it almost impossible for him to punish the perpetrators.”