Congo militia leader handed to Hague Criminal Court

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A Congolese militia leader suspected of being involved in the death of nine UN peacekeepers and mass atrocities in northeastern Congo was handed over to the International Criminal Court on Friday.

Thomas Lubanga, whose tribal faction wreaked havoc in Ituri region during the five-year civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, was the first suspect to be arrested and delivered to the Hague-based court after being flown out of Kinshasa.

The ICC issued a sealed arrest warrant against Mr Lubanga in February for enlisting children aged under 15-years into his forces and using them to ?participate actively in hostilities.?

The ICC prosecutor will seek to bring further charges against him, an ICC official said.

?He was the leader of a militia with a long track-record of brutality against civilians and was suspected of being involved in the death of the Bangladeshi peacekeepers last year,? said Kemal Saiki, a spokesman for the UN mission in Congo.

Congolese fighters killed the nine UN troops in an ambush in Ituri in February 2005.

Mr Lubanga, who had been detained by Congolese authorities in Kinshasa since last March, was suspected to have ordered the attack.

Ituri was the scene of some of the worst atrocities during the 1998-2003 war in Congo as tribal militia, allegedly armed and backed by neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda, battled for control of the region?s rich resources.

More than 60,000 people are estimated to have been killed in the lawless region, and raping and looting were widespread.

The ICC became operational in 2002 and investigations into the crimes committed in Congo were the prosecutor?s first case.

The civil war ended when rebel leaders and the government formed a transitional administration in June 2003, but eastern and northeastern Congo remain beset by violence. The conflict is estimated to have claimed up to 4m lives, mainly through disease and hunger.

Last October, the Hague-based tribunal issued its first arrest warrants for rebel leaders involved in a brutal insurgency in northern Uganda. Those suspects remain at large. It is also investigating mass human rights abuses in Darfur, the crisis-ridden region of Sudan.

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