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Ntaganda Maintains That He Did Not Kill a Priest

Former Congolese rebel commander Bosco Ntaganda has continued to deny the prosecution’s accusation that he killed priest Boniface Bwanalonga during an ethnic conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 2002. Giving evidence in his own defense at the International Criminal Court (ICC), Ntaganda also denied giving orders to his troops to rape three nuns who were arrested together with Bwanalonga.

According to Ntaganda, the priest was arrested during field operations by fighters from the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) in the town of Mongbwalu. Three nuns in the priest’s company at the time of his arrest purportedly volunteered to escort him to the militia group’s camp.  “They refused to leave the priest when he was arrested in the bush and decided to remain close to him,” he said.

Ntaganda stated that at the camp, Thomas Kasangaki, who commanded the UPC troops in Mongbwalu, explained the circumstances of the priest and nun’s arrest. Ntaganda said that he then introduced himself to Bwanalonga and “discussed a few matters with him.” It is unclear what the details of the discussion between Ntaganda and the priest were, but Ntaganda said he was not aware of the priest’s whereabouts thereafter.

Last July, Ntaganda testified that he learned about the death of Bwanalonga while he was reviewing unspecified documents following his arrival at the ICC. Ntaganda, the former deputy chief of staff of the UPC, entered ICC custody in March of 2013, more than a decade after the priest’s murder.

Prosecutors allege that the priest was well known to the UPC leadership and was accused of collaborating with rival Lendu combatants. Prosecutors also claim that Ntaganda personally detained the priest and three nuns on November 25, 2002, interrogated them, and went on to shoot the priest and order his troops to rape the nuns.

Today, after Ntaganda denied knowing the priest prior to meeting him in Mongbwalu town, prosecution lawyer Nicole Samson stated, “You knew who he was and he was a target for you.”

“I didn’t carry out an investigation on him. I did not know these details [of his collaboration with Lendu combatants],” maintained Ntaganda.

Ntaganda also denied Samson’s claim that he gave orders to his troops to rape the nuns. “A commander such as myself could not have given an order to rape nuns. I would never have said that,” he stated.

Ntaganda is on trial at the ICC over charges that UPC troops committed crimes against civilians in the DRC’s Ituri district, particularly those of Lendu ethnicity, during an armed conflict from 2002 to 2003. The charges include attempted murder, rape, sexual slavery, forced transfer of the population, displacement of civilians, attacks against protected objects, pillaging, destruction of property, and use of child soldiers. He has pleaded not guilty to all 18 charges.

Meanwhile, Samson also questioned Ntaganda about alleged cases of rape and murder by UPC troops during an operation in Sayo town, which she said went unpunished. In earlier testimony, Ntaganda said he enforced discipline and punished crimes that came to his attention.

He added, “Offenses brought to our attention were punished. It was not possible for me to punish anyone without having information that such and such a person had committed such and such an offense.”

Ntaganda first took the witness stand last June. Prosecutors were expected to conclude questioning him tomorrow morning. However, this afternoon judges granted a prosecution request for an additional hour to question the accused. Furthermore, the defense was granted eight hours for redirect examination starting next Monday, after lawyers representing victims have also had an opportunity to question Ntaganda.

Hearings in the trial continue through this week.