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Former Insider Says Ntaganda Had Bodyguards Aged 12-14 Years

A former insider in the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) says the group’s former deputy chief of staff, Bosco Ntaganda, had bodyguards who were 12 to 14 years old. “Some of them were 12, 13, 14, 15 [years] and some of them were 18,” stated the insider, while testifying on Friday in Ntaganda’s trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Asked by the prosecuting lawyer how he could tell the age of the children, the insider, who testified under the pseudonym Witness P030 responded that he estimated the age of the child soldiers based on their physical appearance: “A child is a child. Even as you look at the person you can determine his age.”

Witness P030 stated that during the 2002-2003 ethnic conflict in Congo, he was at the residence of UPC leader Thomas Lubanga at least three times a week. It is there where he often saw Ntaganda, who visited regularly. The witness said he sometimes visited Ntaganda’s residence but did not state in open court what the nature of his work with the UPC was. The witness said Ntaganda’s underage bodyguards wore UPC military uniforms and carried guns.

Ntaganda is on trial for five counts of crimes against humanity and 13 counts of war crimes, which include rape, sexual slavery, enlistment and conscription of child soldiers under the age of 15 years, and using them to participate actively in hostilities. Lubanga, the first person convicted by the ICC, is serving a 14-year prison sentence for using child soldiers while he was UPC’s commander-in-chief.

Witness P030 has previously testified at the ICC. Judges have today admitted into evidence his prior recorded testimony as per the Rule 68(3) of the court’s Rules of Procedure and Evidence. The rule provides that if a witness who gave previously recorded testimony is present before court, judges may allow the introduction of the recorded testimony if the witness does not object, and the prosecutor, defense, and judges have the opportunity to examine the witness.

In his testimony, excerpts of which the prosecution read out in court, Witness P030 stated that bodyguards for Ntaganda and UPC chief of staff Floribert Kisembo were of “different ages, some were 13, some were 15, some were older.”

Meanwhile, earlier today, Ntaganda informed judges that he was very pleased to have been able to meet with his wife who visited him in The Hague for eight days. “I would like to thank you because this last period was very difficult. The time I spent with my wife has enabled me to restore my life and health and to follow the trial in better condition,” said Ntaganda, who spoke in Kinyarwanda, reading from a script. “I think I will be better able to deal with my defense.”

On September 21, Ntaganda ended his 14-day hunger strike and boycott of proceedings after court officials arranged for his wife to visit him for eight days under conditions he deemed acceptable. The hunger strike was provoked by an order from judges to maintain restrictions on his communications and contacts.

In response to Ntaganda’s address to the court this morning, Presiding Judge Robert Fremr said Ntaganda’s hunger strike had no bearing on the chamber’s decision to relax the conditions under which the visit was conducted. “We tried and found a way within the legal framework of ICC,” he said, without giving details.

The trial hearing continues on Monday, October 3.