Dem. Republic of Congo: Trial of Ugandan rebels begins
By Godfrey Olukya
BENI, Democratic Republic of Congo: The trial of Ugandan Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebels charged with killing innocent people in North Kivu, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, began Saturday.
The trial, conducted by the Operational Court Martial of North Kivu in collaboration with high military court magistrates, will consider charges that the rebels killed innocent civilians with impunity, attacking their homes and hacking them to death.
''[The suspects] were all arrested during operations against the ADF and taken to various prisons from where they are being brought here for trial,” said Beni prison officer Paul Bongo.
The defendants are facing a 10-judge panel which arrived in Beni four days ago to prepare for the trial.
''These people are accused of killing innocent civilians. They have been being detained by the justice and security services for several months,” said Col. Lufwa Mokono, the general counsel for Democratic Republic of Congo Army, locally known as FARDC.
The length of the trial is uncertain.
''Today the trial began in principle. It is not a single case. It is a series of cases spread out over time,'' said Mokono. He added that not all the suspects in court are from Uganda, as there are also Tanzanians, Rwandese, and Congolese.
He condemned the Congolese who collaborate with ADF rebels to kill their fellow Congolese.
Among the 10 judges on the panel is Col. Nchaikolo, the first president of North Kivu";s Military Operational Court.
Soft targets hit hard
The country's defense ministry decided to start the trial of the suspected ADF rebels and their collaborators arrested by the army in combat zones.
According to Mokono, about 200 ADF suspects will appear in the trial.
Pierre Kasongo, a local who lost a relative in an ADF attack six months ago, said, ''I am happy to see those thugs being tried in courts of law after being charged with killing our relatives. ''
The ADF rebels originated from Uganda in the 1990s with the intention of ousting Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni.
At first they established bases in the DRC near the border with Uganda and attacked 'soft” targets in Uganda like schools and towns.
When Ugandan troops attacked their bases in earnest, they fled into the jungles of North Kivu and set up camps where they trained recruits, largely young men abducted from villages, and used then to attack and kill civilians.
About three years ago UN troops in collaboration with the Congolese army raided the camps and the rebels scattered, fleeing in small groups into the jungle from where they now often attack and kill civilians.
Less than a week ago they attacked homes near Beni and killed over 30 people.
On Aug. 4, Uganda";s president and his Congolese counterpart agreed to establish military cooperation and exchange information in the fight against the ADF.