The Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) militia received arms from Rwanda when supplies from Uganda became unreliable, a witness at the Thomas Lubanga trial said on Wednesday.
The witness also recalled seeing “hundreds” of child soldiers being trained at camps run by the UPC. Bosco Ntaganda, a Congolese who remains free despite an ICC warrant for his arrest, was the man in charge of the training, he said.
The witness frequently traveled around the Ituri region, he said, and personally spoke to UPC leaders including Lubanga, whose headquarters he regularly visited.
Lubanga had told him that, “Uganda was playing hide and seek,” so the UPC turned to Rwanda for arms, he said.
“Uganda didn’t want to openly supply a sufficient quantity of weapons to (the) UPC, so they had to go and get them elsewhere,” said the witness.
The Ugandan army started training Congolese, including children, in 1999 at the Rwampara training camp in the Ituri region, he said, adding that some Congolese were taken to Uganda for training.
The Ugandans trained all Congolese ethnic groups at the camp, and each group ultimately fought to support its own ethnic agenda, he said.
Responding to a question by prosecutor Olivia Struyven, the witness said the problem of child soldiers did not end with the UPC takeover of Bunia in 2002.
“From what I witnessed… after (the) UPC took over Bunia, (the use of child soldiers) continued on a higher scale.”
He added: “Every day that I went to the headquarters of (the) UPC, I saw military training (of children) going on. The person who was head of training in Lubanga’s army, who was at the core, was Bosco Ntaganda.”
Defense lawyer Catherine Mabille objected, saying that the witness was referring to events that he did not witness and whose truthfulness could not be verified.
Judge Adrian Fulford allowed the witness to continue, saying that “as with other witnesses of fact, he should principally focus on events for which he has some appropriate personal knowledge, for instance because he was present at the events in question, or he attended meetings where issues were discussed.”
Despite the objection, the witness said he had, “direct contact with political and military authorities in charge of Ituri and (with the) UPDF (Uganda Peoples Defense Forces), which was like the umbrella of various military groups.”
He added: “I can’t doubt the veracity of the information they gave me. And I cross-checked all the information I was given.”