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Floribert Njabu Concludes his Testimony

This summary includes events that took place April 4 – 15, 2011.

Floribert Njabu, the former president of the FNI (Nationalist and Integrationist Front), concluded his testimony after over two weeks on the stand.

Njabu testified about the creation of the FNI, whose alleged leader, Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui, faces charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity before the ICC. Njabu also testified about the creation of the FRPI (Ituri Patriotic Resistance Force), the group allegedly controlled by Germain Katanga, who is also charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity before the ICC. The two accused are being tried jointly and have called Njabu as a joint witness.

The witness also testified about the role of the DRC and Ugandan governments in the Ituri conflict. According to the witness, Kinshasa forces attacked Bogoro, not the FNI or FRPI. Both Kinshasa and Uganda, the witness claimed, provided support for the FNI’s efforts to regain control of Ituri from the forces of Thomas Lubanga’s UPC (Union of Congolese Patriots; Lubanga is also on trial before the ICC).

According to Njabu, ethnicity did not play a major role in the conflict between the FNI, FRPI, UPC, and other armed groups. He acknowledged that there had been ethnic conflicts, as well as an agrarian conflict over land rights, before the armed militias began fighting for control of the region.

These and other themes of Njabu’s testimony are discussed below.

Creation of the FNI

Njabu testified that the FNI came into existence in November 2002, at Kpandroma. The FNI did not have a leader when it was first created, he said, but he was elected President on December 24, 2002 due to threats facing Kpandroma. Njabu, who is Lendu, said there were two Hema commissioners and an Ngiti commissioner (Pichou Iribi Mbodina, also a Katanga defense witness) in the FNI.

Negotiating Peace in the Region

The witness also discussed various meetings he had in Uganda and with the Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, to discuss the conflict in Ituri. Shortly after he was elected president of the FNI, Njabu said he went to a two-day meeting in Arua, Uganda, to negotiate peace in the Ituri region with UPC/RP representatives (Thomas Lubanga’s faction), and eminent personalities from the Ituri region. During the two-day meeting, Njabu testified, participants discussed the possibility of a ceasefire, the formation of a peace-making committee, and a system for monitoring the agreement. However, the UPC would not agree to a ceasefire, and the FNI had to sign the agreement unilaterally, Njabu claimed.

During a trip to Kampala, the witness said that he went into training for a new platform, the FIPI (Front for Integration and for Peace in Ituri), together with leaders from the FPDC (Popular Force for Democracy in Congo) and PUSIC (Party for Unity and Safeguarding the Integrity of Congo). Museveni told the witness and others that he was willing to support FIPI, Njabu said.

In February 2003, Njabu said that he went to Dar es Salaam as a representative of the FNI to meet with various regional leaders, including Joseph Kabila, President of the DRC, Benjamin Mkapa, then-President of Tanzania, and Museveni. Also present at this meeting were diplomats, government officials, and Thomas Lubanga of the UPC, Njabu said. During this meeting, the leaders discussed a peace-making commission for Ituri, but Lubanga would not agree to some clauses of the agreement, the witness said.

In an unofficial meeting, Njabu told the judges, Kabila asked him about establishing a mechanism to stop the UPC so that it would no longer block peace in Ituri.

“There’s a saying that if you want peace you should prepare for war. The mechanism was to drive the UPC out of power and to regain control of Ituri from Thomas Lubanga’s people,” Njabu said.

He said he was invited by Kabila to travel to Kinshasa to discuss this possibility further.

In Kinshasa, the witness said that he met with Kabila and other officials, including a Ugandan called Captain Maguru. Kabila told Njabu and the others that they had to recover Ituri from the UPC, the witness testified. The witness claimed that Kabila provided a jet to fly them back to Kampala and had agreed with the Ugandan President that Museveni would give the FNI everything they needed so that the UPC could be driven out of Ituri.

FNI Responsibility for the Attack on Bogoro

The witness stated that they returned to Kampala, where they were when they heard over the radio that there was fighting in Bogoro.

He was interviewed by Radio France International about the Bogoro attack, he said. Although he did not remember exactly what he said over the radio, he admitted claiming the FNI was responsible for the attack.

In court, however, he testified that he had absolutely no knowledge of the preparations for the attack on Bogoro.

DRC Government Role in Ituri Conflict

The witness also testified about Kinshasa’s presence in the Ituri region in the early part of 2003. In April 2003, Njabu said, the DRC government sent policemen to Ituri under the command of General Kisempia. Kabila had sent Kisempia as a military leader “to deal with all the armed men there” by organizing the various armed groups into a conventional military structure, Kisempia purportedly told the witness. Kisempia had already met with Ngudjolo to discuss this, and had logistics, rations for all of the military men, and military uniforms, Njabu claimed Kisempia told him.

Kisempia’s plan was short-lived, however, as Njabu said that the UPC attacked Bunia in May, causing Kisempia to leave.

“The UPC was still opposed to any presence of Kinshasa in Bunia. And when they saw General Kisempia in Bunia with military or police forces, that caused frustration on their part and the fighting therefore resumed in Bunia…Two days afterwards, I learned that Kisempia had disappeared, had more or less abandoned the people under his command, and had gone back to Kinshasa,” Njabu testified.

Meeting Katanga in August 2003

Njabu testified that he met Katanga for the first time in August 2003, in Bunia, when there was discussion of going to Kinshasa for another peace negotiation. Katanga was invited to this meeting, the witness said. The witness testified that since not everyone could enter Bunia at that time, he had requested the peacekeeping troops to let them go and wait for Katanga at the entrance to the city. Njabu said that although he had previously tried to contact Katanga to ask him to come to Bunia, these attempts were unsuccessful.

Relationship between the FNI and FRPI

The FNI and FRPI never had good relations, the witness claimed, because of tensions between Dr. Adirodu (the founder of the FRPI) and himself. When Njabu became president of the FNI, he said, relations deteriorated even further because the two groups had different aims. The witness said that after March 2003, the FNI had wanted the FRPI to become the military wing of the FNI. However, this was not successful because, Njabu attested, Kisempia took over all of the armed groups in Bunia and placed them under his command.

“And that is where it all ended, as far as I’m concerned,” Njabu said.

Examination by Ngudjolo Defense

The defense of Ngudjolo questioned this witness after the defense for Katanga had finished its examination-in-chief. The Ngudjolo defense focused on the reasons why the FNI was formed, it purpose, and links between the RCD-K/ML and the DRC government.

The witness testified that Ngudjolo was not present when the FNI was established. In August 2002, the witness said, he knew Ngudjolo, who was studying in a hospital in Bunia. The witness got to know Ngudjolo through Dr. Adirodu, he testified.

Njabu told the judges that the FNI was formed in response to political and security problems in Ituri, in order to help the Kinshasa government and the RCD-K/ML retake control of Ituri from the UPC. It was created as a political and military organization Njabu said.

However, from November 2002 until March 18, 2003, the FNI did not have a military headquarters, the witness testified. According to Njabu, during this period the FNI operated primarily from abroad and did not have a headquarters in Bunia or a presence in Zumbe. The witness denied that Ngudjolo was the highest FNI commander in Zumbe during this period.

When asked about the ideology of the FNI, the witness explained:

“The FNI was merely concerned with nationalism, that is, working with the Congolese people who loved their country. At the political level, our intention was to fight to ensure that everyone was integrated into the political system of the country. It was our aim to fight for socio-economic change in the country, amongst other things.”

Njabu also testified about the formation of the UPC. He testified that the UPC was originally formed as a purely political movement in 2000. He claimed that the UPC initially cooperated with Uganda. Njabu stated that Thomas Lubanga had convinced the Ugandans to back the UPC, because the UPC could better support Uganda’s interests in Ituri.

However, the witness explained, “In the long term, that did not work out.”

Njabu went on to describe the role of the Ugandan army in the conflict in the DRC as one of supporting rebellions against Kinshasa. He testified that Uganda had claimed that they needed to be present in Ituri for security reasons. The witness, however, thought that this was not the only reason for their presence in Ituri.

“The officially presented reason, i.e. to fight the Ugandan rebels in Congolese territory, was totally unjustified. In fact, their goals were quite different,” Njabu said.

Uganda gained significant economic benefits from the situation in Ituri, he said.

Uganda’s support of the UPC changed when the UPC allied itself with Rwanda through the RCD-Goma, Njabu testified. According to Njabu, Uganda left Ituri due to concerns over this alliance.

Njabu also stated that the DRC government created an alliance with the RCD-K/ML, based in Beni, in order to re-conquer Ituri. The RCD-K/ML was also aligned with Uganda, the witness said. Kinshasa then set up a military command center in Beni, the EMOI (Integrated Operational Headquarters), in order to train military groups and integrate them into the army.

The EMOI, Njabu said, conducted large-scale operations in Ituri, such as supplying arms and ammunition to Mongbwalu, in order to neutralize the UPC and gain control of the region.

Njabu also claimed that EMOI was also involved in the attack on Bogoro.

“The main objective of EMOI was to reconquer the entire territory of Ituri. And in order to achieve that aim, certain resources were made available. Now, Bogoro is located inside Ituri district, which was the main target of EMOI. Consequently, according to me, EMOI was indeed involved in the Bogoro attack,” he said. Indeed, the witness claimed that the attack on Bogoro was carried out by Kinshasa’s forces, and not by the FNI or FRPI.

Cross-Examination

On cross-examination, the prosecution asked the witness about the ethnic dynamics of the conflict. The prosecution has focused on ethnic motivations for the attack on Bogoro, with the Lendus and Ngitis attacking the Hema. However, Njabu indicated that ethnicity was not a central issue to the conflict.

For example, he said that, to his knowledge, the UPC was not only identified with the Hema. He denied that non-Hema members representing the UPC at a peace negotiation were “hostages,” who were members of the UPC only to protect themselves or their families. Njabu said he saw these non-Hema UPC members discussing the UPC ideology with conviction, and suggested that this meant they must have been genuinely committed to the UPC cause.

The prosecution also asked the witness about his testimony about the FNI’s goal to integrate the FRPI as its armed wing. The witness testified that this was the intent, but it was ultimately unsuccessful. Njabu admitted that he had wanted Katanga and Ngudjolo as high-ranking members of an FNI armed wing but insisted that this plan never materialized.

The prosecution also questioned the witness extensively about the use of child soldiers in the FNI. Njabu contended that the FNI never recruited or trained child soldiers. The prosecution presented a video taken by a journalist in June 2003, in which a group of boys and men were shown conducting military drills. In the video, one boy claimed that he was 16, and another boy claimed that he was 13, even though both boys appeared to be much younger than they indicated, as noted by journalists in the video.

The witness, also present in the video, testified that this video did not show military training but rather a demonstration parade. Njabu adamantly denied that he had ordered recruitment of child soldiers. He testified that the children were orphans who would come to his residence. Njabu claimed that the FNI tried to drive them away. Eventually, his group took them to a non-governmental organization dealing with child soldiers, he said. Njabu explained that given the context of the time and the peace agreement signed by the FNI on March 18, 2003, recruiting child soldiers would not have been possible. “If you understand the context you will see that even if I had wanted to, I could not have gone on with any recruitment because the decisions taken had been contrary to that,” he told the judges.

Judges Question Witness on Political History

The judges had many questions for the witness about his political history and role as president of the FNI. In particular, the judges asked the Njabu about the role of the Ugandans in the conflict when the FNI was created in late 2002. The witness explained the double role of Uganda in this period of the conflict. He explained that the UPDF was still allied with the UPC in late 2002.

“But Uganda, even if it has problems with you, pretends not to have any…But at the same time, they act against you and you realize they don’t agree with you. That’s how it functions in Uganda,” the witness explained.

The judges also asked the witness about the ethnic nature of the conflict. Njabu testified that although the ethnic conflicts had existed before, when the country was partitioned, the region later found itself in the hands of the rebels.

“This means that the existence of the conflicts that existed spread much further,” Njabu said. “Ethnic conflicts existed before, and then the UPC arrived.”

Njabu said that the conflicts were extremely complex: it was not simply the Lendu against the Hema, he said, but there were also internal Hema land disputes. Njabu characterized the conflict as originating as an agrarian dispute over land rights between the wealthy and the poor, rather than as an ethnic conflict.

“It was not only Hemas who were involved in those conflicts,” he claimed. “It was mainly the large land owners who wanted to expand their land without taking into consideration the [property laws] in Congo.”

This testimony provoked a rare reaction from Katanga, who was nodding in agreement with the witness’ testimony.

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