Monday, March 21, 2005

Congo arrests militia leader

Mar 22, 2005 news via New Zealand:

Congolese security services have arrested the head of a militia group accused of widespread human rights violations in the lawless northeastern district of Ituri, the government and militia sources said.

Congo has been under pressure from the United Nations and foreign governments to hunt down those responsible for 60,000 deaths in the district since 1999 and to find the killers of nine Bangladeshi UN peacekeepers who died there last month.

A government spokesman confirmed the arrest of Thomas Lubanga but declined to give any details.

"The international community says he is responsible for atrocities during his time in Ituri but he is not thought to be involved in the killing of the Bangladeshis," a security source said.

A senior member of Lubanga's Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) said he was arrested and sent to Makala prison in the capital Kinshasa on Saturday.

"His arrest is arbitrary and does not conform to any procedures," UPC secretary general John Tinanzabu told Reuters.

Lubanga had been based in Kinshasa for more than a year and had registered the UPC, an ethnic Hema rebel group, as a political party, Tinanzabu said.

Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is suffering the world's worst humanitarian crisis with a death toll outstripping that of Sudan's Darfur region, the UN said last week.

The conflict in mineral-rich Ituri pits various ethnic-based militias against each other and has displaced some 100,000 people since December, hampering the former Belgian colony's efforts to recover from a wider five-year war.

Security sources said that Lubanga was being held alongside eight other military and political leaders from Ituri after several weeks of house arrest.

International pressure to arrest Ituri's warlords, some of whom have joined Congo's national army as part of a peace deal, increased last month after the Bangladeshi peacekeepers were killed in an ambush by unknown gunmen.

Security services arrested Floribert Ndjabu, head of the ethnic Lendu-dominated Nationalist and Integrationist Front (FNI) militia, earlier this month along with an FNI commander and a general allied to the group.

The UN has stepped up efforts to disarm militia groups in the past few months. It said on Monday some 550 militiamen had disarmed in the district in the last two days alone.

"The growing number of militia members giving in their weapons and joining the reintegration process indicates that the recent political and military efforts in the district are staring to bear fruit," the UN mission said in a statement.

The prosecutor for Ituri and UN human rights experts have been gathering evidence of crimes carried out in the district.

Those accused will be tried either in a Congolese court or the International Criminal Court, due to try those responsible for crimes committed in Ituri after July 1, 2002.

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