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International Court Convenes Trial in Congo Ituri Massacre: Ntaganda Remains at Large

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Sixteen years after hostilities ramped up in 1996, Congo remains awash in atrocities, the bloody fingers of blame point in all directions, and at the International Criminal Court (ICC) pleas of "not guilty" once again are ringing through the halls of justice. The focus now is on the Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where, prosecutors say, Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui directed a murderous rampage in February 2003. The reason? Rival ethnic groups were engaged in a fight over control of gold, diamonds and oil. Katanga and Chui are charged with, among other things, rape, pillaging, recruitment and use of child soldiers, murder, and sexual slavery.

Both men have pleaded not guilty.

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Image: Katanga (l) Chui (r) © Congonewschannel

The warrant of arrest for Katanga, AKA "Simba," reads like something from Dante's description of the Third Circle of Hell.

Considering that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the attack directed against the village of Bogoro was indiscriminate, and that during, and in the
aftermath of, the attack, members of the FNI and FRPI committed several criminal
acts against civilians primarily of Hema ethnicity, namely i) the murder of about 200
civilians; ii) causing serious bodily harm to civilians; iii) arresting, threatening with
weapons and imprisoning civilians in a room filled with corpses; iv) pillaging and
v) the sexual enslavement of several women and girls...

Chui's arrest warrant lists the same atrocities, allegedly committed against innocents, and adds the fact that he is a high ranking officer in the Congolese Army (FARDC.).

...currently a Colonel in the National Army of the Government of the DRC (Forces armées de la RDC [Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo], "FARDC") since October 2006, currently stationed in Bunia and adviser to the Chief of the Operational Sector of the FARDC....

After Chui was appointed a colonel in FARDC, he left Ituri to study at a military training centre for officers in Kinshasa. He was arrested there in February 2008.

Bosco Ntaganda, AKA "the Terminator," another officer in the FARDC, remains in command of troops in eastern Congo, despite an outstanding 2006 ICC arrest warrant .

Bosco is accused of forcibly conscripting child soldiers in and around Ituri.

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Image: Pretrial Chamber © ICC/AP

It isn't as if the President of Congo, Joseph Kabila, does not know where to find him. Part of the reason Bosco seems to have been granted immunity from arrest may be that he was instrumental in arranging the illegal arrest and detention of rebel leader Laurent Nkunda in a secret deal between Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Kabila in January 2009. Human rights groups have consistently decried the level of civilian casualties resulting from this deal.

Referring to Bosco the Terminator, Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch said, "The UN needs to make it clear that if the Congolese government wants its continued military support, the army should remove abusive soldiers from command positions and its soldiers should stop attacking civilians."

The numbers do not add up if you are a civilian in DRC. 1,143 civilians were killed, including at least 10 local chiefs, and 7,000 women and girls raped. Nearly 900,000 civilians were forced to flee their homes since January 2009 in North and South Kivu.

In addition, The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, has recently urged the international community not to forget the Congolese in their hour of need, comparing the hundreds of thousands of forcibly displaced civilians in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Guterres emphasized the enormity of the catastrophic displacement of two million people in remarks made in Goma, DRC last month.

If you look at the humanitarian situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, all the victims - victims of conflict, victims of illness, health problems, of extreme poverty - the number of people that die, mostly needlessly, every six months is equivalent to the number of victims of the Asian tsunami.

Now if you compare the massive support of the international community to the tsunami victims (200,000) with the support that is given to the DRC every six months, it's a stark difference.

The 200 victims of the massacre in the village of Bogoro are symbolic of the six million dead and counting in this endless Congo war.

Let's hope that technicalities do not produce acquittals of Chui and Katanga as was the case last week with Protais Zigiranyirazo. Zigiranyirazo was accused of establishing roadblocks in and around the city of Gisenyi, Rwanda and ordering the immediate execution of anyone carrying a Tutsi ID card during April 1994. Up to one million Hutus and Tutsis died in that conflict.