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Lubanga Not Responsible For Military Takeover in Bunia, Witness Says

For the third day of cross-examination, defense witness Bede Djokaba Lambi Longa persisted in denying nearly all suggestions by the prosecution that Thomas Lubanga or the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) had a military role in Bunia, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) before September 2002. He continued his denial in the face of contradictory documents signed by Mr. Lubanga, including one where Mr. Lubanga claims responsibility for the military takeover in Bunia on August 9, 2002.

Today is the fifth day of Mr. Longa’s testimony in the war crimes trial of Mr. Lubanga for conscription, recruitment, and use of child soldiers in fighting in the Ituri district of the DRC in 2002 and 2003.

Noting that hearsay is sometimes allowed in trials at the International Criminal Court (ICC), Judge Adrian Fulford permitted the prosecutor to ask Mr. Longa what was reported to him about discussions in Uganda in June 2002 between Lubanga’s group and the Congolese Rally for Democracy – Kisangani Liberation Movement (RCD-K-ML). Prosecuting lawyer Olivia Struyven suggested that Uganda wanted to reconcile the RCD-K-ML and the UPC, but the witness disagreed. Mr. Longa reported that he was told the “terrain” in Uganda was not favorable to an exchange. Uganda seemed already won over to the cause of the RCD-K-ML. No substantial debate was allowed, he said. Some of the UPC delegates, including Mr. Lubanga, were arrested and taken to Kinshasa.

Ms. Struyven, had little success breaking through the witness’s denials and was admonished by Judge Fulford for repetitive questions. The prosecutor asked whether the plan to remove the RCD-K-ML continued when Richard Lonema and others returned to Bunia following the arrest of their compatriots. It was not possible to show themselves after they returned as the atmosphere was very hostile, responded the witness.

When asked about a training camp in Mandro, Mr. Longa said he heard that the mutineers from the Congolese People’s Army (APC), the military wing of the Congolese Rally for Democracy – Liberation Movement (RCD-ML), withdrew to Mandro and some form of military training was given there. Thus, he insulated Mr. Lubanga and the UPC from military activities, as he earlier denied that Mr. Lubanga controlled the mutineers. Mr. Longa could not confirm if weapons air dropped to Mandro from Rwanda because he said he was in Bunia at this time.

Ms. Struyven then asked about Mr. Lubanga’s detention. Sometime after he was arrested and detained at a DEMIAP (détection militaire des activités anti-patrie) or Military Detection of Anti-Fatherland Activities, facility, Mr. Lubanga was transferred to the Grand Hotel in Kinshasa where he was put under house arrest. While Mr. Longa agreed the hotel was luxurious, he later said it was also a dungeon where people were very closely monitored by the DEMIAP Unit. He was unaware of any press conference Mr. Lubanga gave at that time as there was little communication between Kinshasa and Bunia.

While he agreed with Ms. Struyven that there was a shop in Bunia where one could pay to use a satellite telephone, it was too expensive for most people. He had no communication with Mr. Lubanga during that period, nor did anyone he spent time with.

Mr. Longa also denied that Richard Lonema was the interim president while Mr. Lubanga was in detention in Kinshasa. If he held power, the witness said, he arrogated it to himself. Nor did Mr. Lubanga have anything to do with the military takeover in Bunia on August 9, 2002. Those who had earlier mutinied from the APC were responsible, he said. The prosecutor showed Mr. Longa a document dated August 11, 2002, and signed by Mr. Lubanga, wherein he and his people took credit for the takeover. Mr. Longa replied that several people were trying to claim responsibility for the military victory in order to establish themselves as credible interlocutors with the government. It did not mean Mr. Lubanga was actually responsible.

Ms. Struyven presented the witness with another document signed by Mr. Lubanga in September 2002, in which he states that the UPC-RP (Union of Congolese Patriots/ Reconciliation and Peace) – a name the group adopted at the time – had taken up arms to remove all forces that contributed to the destruction of Ituri and the Congo, and that the UPC-RP had put an end to the RCD-K-ML. Mr. Longa agreed this was an objective of the UPC-RP in September 2002 when the UPC began structuring an army and becoming involved in fighting the “enemies of peace.”

The remainder of the questioning on Tuesday came from prosecutor Ade Omofade. The questions explored events between March and May 2003, when the UPC and the Patriotic Force for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC) were driven out of Bunia but later fought their way back.

Trial will resume tomorrow morning for further cross-examination of Mr. Longa. Given the unanticipated length of his testimony, the schedule of witnesses will require adjustment, the defense stated.