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Congo figure to stand trial in Hague

The warlord is accused of enlisting children to fight in tribal conflict.

January 30, 2007|From the Associated Press

THE HAGUE — A Congolese warlord accused of sending child soldiers to fight in a vicious tribal conflict was ordered Monday to stand trial at the International Criminal Court.

A three-judge chamber found evidence strong enough to "establish substantial grounds to believe" that Thomas Lubanga was responsible "for war crimes consisting of enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15," said presiding Judge Claude Jorda of France.

Monday's decision was a landmark for the Hague-based court, the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal, set up in 2002 to prosecute suspects responsible for atrocities around the world. So far, it has only Lubanga in custody in a special unit inside a Dutch jail.

Lubanga's attorney, Jean Flamme, is considering appealing, but said he would first have to study the ruling, which runs to more than 100 pages.

Human rights groups and authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo welcomed the decision to put Lubanga on trial as a major step for victims of the country's civil war and tribal conflicts, which left about 4 million people dead through fighting, famine or disease.

"We are very pleased with the confirmation of charges because obviously they are leading to the first-ever trial at the ICC," said Geraldine Mattioli of Human Rights Watch.

Lubanga faces charges of recruiting and deploying child soldiers in the Ituri region of eastern Congo in 2002-2003. He faces a maximum life sentence.

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