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War crimes prosecutor calls for conviction in Congo sexual slavery case

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Tuesday called on judges to convict a former Congo military leader on charges ranging from murder and rape to conscripting child soldiers and sexual slavery.

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“The evidence shows that Bosco Ntaganda personally committed crimes,” Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said, in closing remarks in Ntaganda’s three-year trial. Ntanganda denies wrongdoing.

“He persecuted and attacked civilians, he murdered them, pillaged their goods, destroyed their charities and hospitals. And he enlisted and used children under the age of 15 to participate directly in hostilities,” Bensouda said.

Ntaganda faces 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for acts allegedly committed in 2002-2003 when he was deputy Chief of Staff of the Union of Congolose Patriots (UPC), a militia group in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Bensouda told judges the case would prove a landmark in that it is recognized the sexual enslavement of soldiers as a separate crime within the court’s jurisdiction.

Ntaganda’s lawyers are due to respond on Wednesday. During the trial Ntaganda testified in his own defense, arguing he was a peacemaker who had tried to keep order amid a power vacuum in the mineral-ich Ituri region of northeast Congo in the early 2000s.

He said he had been unfairly tagged with the nickname “Terminator,” that witnesses against him had given false testimony, and that he had never harmed civilians.

Ntaganda surrendered at the U.S. Embassy in neighboring Rwanda in 2013, seven years after his indictment, asking to be turned over to the ICC after apparently having fled Congo due to infighting among military groups.

In Tuesday’s closing remarks, Bensouda summarized testimony from witnesses to crimes allegedly committed by troops under Ntaganda’s command.

“A lot of people were executed by hand with machetes ... some of them were disemboweled, even pregnant women,” Bensouda said, quoting a witness identified as P-105, who was describing the slaughter of a group of around 50 members of the ethnic Lendu tribe. The Lendu were allegedly targeted for expulsion from Ituri by Ntaganda’s UPC, which was dominated by the rival Hema clan.

Bensouda also cited from the testimony of a girl who had allegedly been conscripted and regularly raped by Ntaganda’s soldiers. She and others were referred by them to with a slur which translated as “common pot.”

Ntaganda plans to address the court word after the end of the closing arguments.

No date for a verdict has yet been set.

Reporting by Toby Sterling; Editing by Richard Balmforth