February 11, 2008 / 3:37 PM / in 10 years

Ex-Congo warlord Ngudjolo appears in Hague court

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Former Congo warlord Mathieu Ngudjolo appeared for the first time on Monday at the International Criminal Court, where he faces war crimes charges of murder, sexual slavery and using child soldiers.

<p>Congolese Mathieu Ngudjolo is seen at the International Criminal Court in The Hague February 11, 2008. REUTERS/Peter Dejong/Pool</p>

Ngudjolo, who appeared in court in a dark suit and red tie, was the head of the Front of Nationalists and Integrationists (FPI) militia during a conflict in northeast Ituri Province that grew out of Congo’s 1998-2003 war.

He was arrested last week and brought from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to The Hague, where the ICC is hearing cases against two other Congolese militia chiefs, Thomas Lubanga and Germain Katanga.

A court official read out Ngudjolo’s arrest warrant, issued so he could be tried on three counts of crimes against humanity and six counts of war crimes. Formal confirmation of the charges has been scheduled for May 21.

“He is responsible for the murders of 200 civilians, looting, and reducing women and girls to sexual slavery,” a spokesman for the court said when he was arrested.

Ngudjolo’s lawyer, Jean-Pierre Kilenda Kakengi Basila, asked that the trial be dismissed, as Ngudjolo had already been acquitted of similar charges by a court in the DRC.

“That tribunal acquitted my client,” Kakengi Basila said. “This case is inadmissible.”

Ngudjolo, in an opening statement, complained of leg cramps during his flight from Kinshasa, the lack of an interpreter for his preferred language of Lingala and his food.

“The cooking, the Dutch cooking! Dutch cooking is not suitable,” Ngudjolo told the court.

More than 70,000 people were killed in ethnic conflicts that grew out of the war, and a United Nations peacekeeping mission was sent last year to help the newly elected government restore order to the region.

Lubanga, who was taken into custody in 2006, is due to be tried from March 31 on charges of recruiting children under the age of 15 to kill members of another ethnic group.

Katanga, another Ituri ex-militia leader, is accused of murder, sexual slavery and using child soldiers.

Ngudjolo’s arrest comes as the government of President Joseph Kabila is attempting to bring to an end a decade of violence in Congo that experts estimate has killed 5.4 million people, mainly through hunger and disease.

Editing by Catherine Evans

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