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article imageCongolese rebel says he is a 'revolutionary' not a criminal

By Jan HENNOP (AFP)     Aug 30, 2018 in World

Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda told international judges Thursday he was a "revolutionary and not a criminal" as arguments drew to a close in his three-year war crimes trial.

Ntaganda, aged around 44, is accused of overseeing massacres of Lendu civilians by his rebel army in the Ituri region of northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo in 2002 and 2003.

"I am a revolutionary, but I am not a criminal," Ntaganda told the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

He faces war crimes and crimes against humanity charges for his role in the bloody conflict wracking the mineral-rich region.

Speaking in his native Kinyarwanda tongue, the rebel commander, on the final day of the hearing, said his own testimony during his trial was "an enriching experience which I will never forget."

"I am at peace with myself. These allegations are nothing more than lies," said Ntaganda, dressed in a dark blue suit, light blue shirt and blue diamond-patterned tie.

Ntaganda again took aim at his nickname "The Terminator", which was also used by prosecutors to describe him during the trial.

"I hope that you now realise that the 'Terminator' described by the prosecutor is not me," Ntaganda said, his glasses perched on his nose.

- 'Civilians slaughtered' -

Rwandan-born Ntaganda, also an ex-general in the Congolese army, had a reputation as a charismatic leader with a penchant for cowboy hats and fine dining.

He faces 13 counts of war crimes and five counts of crimes against humanity as a commander of the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC).

The alleged crimes include murder, rape, sexual slavery and recruiting children under the age of 15.

Prosecutors on Tuesday told the trial that Ntaganda's fighters slaughtered civilians with machetes and disembowelled pregnant women.

The prosecutors also said Ntaganda was central to planning operations for the Union of Congolese Patriots and its military wing, the FPLC.

They said the FPLC killed at least 800 people as it battled rival militias for control of Ituri.

More than 60,000 people have been killed since violence erupted in the region in 1999, according to rights groups.

Ntaganda has been on trial at the ICC since 2015. He pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The first-ever suspect to voluntarily surrender to the ICC, Ntaganda walked into the US embassy in Kigali in 2013 and asked to be sent to the court.

Ntaganda is also a founding member of the M23 rebel group, which was eventually defeated by Congolese government forces five years ago.

Judges will now deliberate, but it may take months or even years before a verdict is handed down.

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