The first witness to testify in the trial of former Congolese militia leader Bosco Ntaganda took the witness stand on September 15 and described a massacre of civilians by fighters from the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), a group in which Ntaganda was deputy chief of staff.
Testifying under the court-given name Witness P0805, he recounted how UPC fighters convened a peace meeting with members of a rival ethnic group near the town of Mongbwalu in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) but arrested and later shot dead those who turned up. Those killed were Lendu, the witness said, but he did not mention the dates on which the massacres happened.
“I knew they were Lendu because after having killed those people, I went to observe their corpses and it was then that I noted that they were of Lendu ethnic origin,” said the witness. He did not state what distinguishing factors enabled him to determine the ethnic identify of those killed.
The witness said he spoke to a woman who was among the individuals rounded up at the peace meeting. She told him that UPC fighters kept the detainees overnight in a house. At dawn they brought out the detainees one by one and shot them in a banana plantation. The witness did not state in open court how the unidentified woman survived the massacre.
Witness P0805 testified with protective measures and gave a large part of his testimony in closed session. In open court, he stated that at the time of the events, he was a businessman but he is now a farmer.
He testified that he fled his village after it was attacked by UPC soldiers.
“Why was it important for you to avoid the UPC?” asked prosecuting lawyer Eric Iverson.
The witness replied, “I was avoiding the UPC because I feared they might kill me because I was from the Lendu tribe.”
He explained that at the time, there was a tribal war between the UPC and the Lendu tribe. According to the witness, members of the Nande ethnic community also fled their homes for fear of UPC attacks.
When he returned home after about two and half weeks, Witness P0805 found that UPC soldiers had demolished his house and stolen his property including US$ 4,920, 53.5gms of gold, 9.3gms of gold alloy, 12 pairs of trousers, 14 shirts, seven pairs of shoes, five pairs of sandals, and a bicycle.
“My house was demolished, a house that was built with some 22 pieces of tin roofing,” he added.
Ntaganda is charged with murder, rape, sexual slavery, pillaging, and using child soldiers, among other crimes allegedly committed against the non-Hema civilian population of DRC’s Ituri province during ethnic conflict in 2002 and 2003. While addressing the court earlier this month, he denied being a criminal and claimed he fought for a return of peace and resettlement of refugees.
However, the prosecution has lined up more than 80 witnesses, many of whom will testify that Ntaganda organized and personally participated in committing the crimes charged.
Witness P0805 will continue his testimony on Sept. 16 at 9:30 a.m. local time in The Hague.