Congo seeks reparations from Uganda at World Court
Photo: A De Beers employee holds the largest uncut diamond ever displayed in Canada. The 616-carat Dutoitspan diamond, discovered in Kimberley, South Africa, is too flawed to cut and is valued at US$3 million. Stringer photo.
THE HAGUE, April 11 (Reuters) - The Democratic Republic of Congo accused Uganda on Monday of "massive" human rights abuses, looting and destruction in a war on its territory and demanded compensation from its neighbour at the World Court.
The Congo -- rich in gold, diamonds and timber -- was the battleground for rebels, local factions, tribes and neighbouring countries, including Uganda, in a 1998-2003 war in which 4 million people died, mainly from hunger and disease.
"Uganda played a considerable role in the murderous war which tore apart the Congo for five years," Congolese representative Maitre Tshibangu Kalala told the court at the start of public hearings on Monday.
Congo took Uganda to the World Court in 1999, accusing it of responsibility for human rights abuses and "armed aggression". It called for compensation for what it said were acts of looting, destruction and removal of property.
Congo says Uganda committed "violations of international humanitarian law and massive human rights violations", the World Court said in a statement.
Cases at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), also known as the World Court, can take years to be completed. The court is the U.N.'s highest and its ruling in the case will be final and not subject to appeal.
Uganda has filed a counter claim, accusing Congo of responsibility for attacks on Ugandan citizens and diplomatic buildings in Kinshasa and unspecified acts of aggression against Uganda.
A Ugandan representative declined to comment on the case and said his country would outline its position on Friday.
Congo's Justice Minister Kisimba Ngoy was quoted by U.N. radio as saying reparations could amounts to billions of dollars.
Rwanda and Uganda invaded Congo after rebel factions backed by them took up arms in 1998 to topple the late President Laurent Kabila, who was supported by Namibia, Angola and Zimbabwe.
A ceasefire was negotiated in 1999 and Ugandan troops finally pulled out in 2002.
A U.N. report in November 2001 said the initial motivation for Rwanda and Uganda to intervene in the central African nation had been to secure their borders.
But over time the lure of natural resources became the primary motive for staying in many areas of the former Zaire and perpetuating the warfare, the report said.
U.N. officials have accused Ugandan commanders of stealing gold, diamonds and timber, although Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has rebuffed such charges, saying there is nothing of value in the country to exploit.
Under a 2003 peace deal, a power-sharing government was set up to shepherd the Congo to elections this year, but armed groups still rule much of the country as local strongmen protect privileges built up during the war.
Uganda, Angola, Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania and Congo pledged in September 2002 to stop interfering in each other's affairs in a new regional bid to end Congo's war.
But a U.N.-commissioned report in January singled out Uganda for failing to control cross-border trade into the Congo's lawless northeastern district of Ituri, where warlords prosper amid a local conflict that has killed 60,000 people since 1999.
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Photo: Ugandan army soldiers display weapons captured from the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) in Kipwayi hills, some 50 miles inside Sudan near the border with Uganda. US lawmakers called for greater international efforts to bring peace to northern Uganda and stop the exploitation of children by opposition rebels there. (AFP/File/Peter Busomoke) April 7, 2005.