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Prosecutors Challenge Witness Testimony That Ntaganda’s Troops Did Not Commit Atrocities

The prosecution has disputed the account of a former fighter in Bosco Ntaganda’s Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), who said members of the militia did not commit atrocities during attacks in 2002 on villages inhabited by members of the Lendu ethnic group.

During the cross-examination of Witness D017, trial lawyer Diane Luping read excerpts from three documents that detailed acts of rape, pillaging, and killings allegedly committed by UPC fighters in the localities of Zumbe and Kamande. The documents included a report by the former United Nations Mission in Congo (MONUC), which detailed the killing of 120 civilians in Zumbe by UPC fighters on October 15-16, 2002.

The UPC, in which Ntaganda was the deputy chief of staff, was predominately composed of troops from the Hema ethnic group. The prosecution charges that Ntaganda and his troops committed various war crimes and crimes against humanity, mostly against Lendu civilians.

A separate report issued in 2003 by a United Nations human rights group indicated that in the October 15-16, 2002 attack on Zumbe and neighboring villages, the UPC killed up to 180 civilians using guns, machetes, and spears, raped at least 50 women, mutilated several civilians, stole 1,500 cattle, and burned down 500 houses.

The third document that Luping read from was written by members of the Lendu community and put the death toll from the attacks around Zumbe at 250 civilians. The report, which was written to the then-rebel group known as the Rally for Congolese Democracy Kisangani (RCD-K), said 62 civilians had been wounded. It also accused UPC fighters of burning down two health centers, six schools, four churches, and 83 bicycles.

Luping presented these documents as she contested the testimony by Witness D017 that the UPC did not commit crimes when it attacked villages dominated by the Lendu. “In all three reports there were reports of civilians being killed, women being raped, buildings being destroyed, and large scale pillaging. Isn’t this what happened and not how you described it to the chamber?” asked Luping.

The witness answered: “I am telling you what I witnessed.” He also stated that while the reports indicated that Ugandan soldiers fought alongside the UPC in the attacks cited by the prosecuting lawyer, he never personally went to combat alongside Ugandans.

While insisting that pillaging and other crimes against civilians were proscribed in the UPC, Witness D017 stated that in one instance, goods that some UPC fighters had looted were confiscated by commanders and destroyed in full view of all soldiers in their group. “When there was an operation soldiers were not allowed to pillage,” he said. “That’s why this act was performed,” he added, referring to the confiscation and public destruction of the pillaged goods.

When Luping suggested that UPC fighters looted food during a particular operation because they did not go to the battlefield with dry rations, the witness responded that in that particular case, the troops were able to travel for an attack using vehicles and return to their base the same day. He added: “There was no pillaging of food. Why would a soldier steal food? And do what with it?”

Witness D017 is the ninth individual to testify in Ntaganda’s defense. Earlier this week, he testified that the UPC rejected under-age recruits and that the group “strictly prohibited” sexual relations among female and male recruits, as well as between recruits and instructors.

The witness concluded his testimony and hearings are scheduled to continue on Monday, December 4, when another defense witness will appear.