The Thomas Lubanga trial resumed on Tuesday with a former political leader in the Ituri region telling the court that Uganda trained hundreds of Congolese fighters, including children, who later served in Lubanga’s militia.
The witness also said Lubanga sold beans at Bunia market before he became a spokesperson for Hema ethnic militias, and later president of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC).
To protect his identity, the witness was not named, and his voice and face were distorted in public sound and video transmissions.
However, the witness indicated that he was a senior official with a political group in the Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where Lubanga’s group operated.
He was not a member of Lubanga’s party, he said, although he worked closely with some former UPC leaders such as a man known as Chief Kahwa Mandro.
“Kahwa went to see (Ugandan President Yoweri) Museveni on the possibility of providing young Hema (with) military training,” the witness said. “So they went to Kyankwanzi military training school in Uganda, and I went there when they were being trained.”
The witness subsequently traveled to Kyankwanzi to bring Congolese children back to region from their Ugandan army training, he told the court.
When prosecutor Nicole Samson asked about the ages of the trainees, the witness said he wasn’t sure.
“But I remember that at one time we went to get some children who were in Kyankwanzi. I think some human rights organizations had attacked Uganda (over training child soldiers) and we had to bring them back home.
“A lot of them were young children, really small…. I remember accompanying them back home, but they were definitely minors…. At any age, they were allowed to join the army,” the witness said.
By that time, hundreds of Congolese fighters had already undergone training at Kyankwanzi camp, lasting two to three months, he said.
The witness also recalled that Uganda trained commanders at Jinja, at town on Lake Victoria and east of Kampala, and that the training lasted six months.
As a result of Kahwa’s request, about 750 Congolese from the Ituri region were trained by the Ugandans, he said.
“Did the 750 soldiers belong to any particular ethnic group?” Samson asked.
“Yes, they were all Hemas,” the witness said.
“You have to understand that this was an ethnic conflict and to save themselves people had to become soldiers and get military training,” he said.