Court Hears of Bogoro Meeting

Witness tells of meeting about control of supply line along which village was located.

Court Hears of Bogoro Meeting

Witness tells of meeting about control of supply line along which village was located.

Tuesday, 9 February, 2010
A witness described to International Criminal Court, ICC, prosecutors this week a meeting he attended to determine what to do with the strategically-located village of Bogoro.

The witness alleged that the meeting was held between a representative for Mathieu Ngudjolo, who was then the head of the National Integrationist Front, FNI, and Germain Katanga, who led the Patriotic Resistance Force, FRPI.

Testifying before the ICC in Swahili – with face and voice distortion – the witness said that he attended the meeting, which prosecutors allege took place prior to the February 24, 2003 massacre in Bogoro, as a bodyguard for Ngudjolo’s representative.

The witness explained that Katanga and Ngudjolo wanted to find a way to control the main supply line to Bunia, the capital of Ituri district, along which Bogoro lies.

“They [decided to] hit the snake in the head,” the witness said. “If you kill a snake without cutting off its head, it will continue to trouble you.”

When asked by the prosecution who the snake was, the witness responded, “The snake was the [opposing] force positioned in Bogoro.”

Other areas along the road were already under FNI or FRPI control at the time, but Bogoro was controlled by the Union of Congolese Patriots, UPC, led by Thomas Lubanga, who is also standing trial at the ICC.

Katanga and Ngudjolo are accused of launching an attack on Bogoro on February 24, 2003, which killed about 200 people and burned much of the village to the ground.

The two defendants are charged with ten counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, sexual slavery, pillaging and the use of child soldiers.

Both pleaded not guilty to these charges, when the trial began on November 24. The trial recommenced on January 26 after a nearly two-month hiatus.

When MacDonald pressed the witness to explain how control over the Bunia road was to be established, he had difficulties giving a straightforward answer.

This was an issue throughout the examination, and at one point the defence complained that MacDonald was asking leading questions.

David Hooper, Katanga’s lawyer, also pointed out that the witness had been interviewed for 50 hours prior to testifying, which he said was “an extraordinary amount of time”.

Furthermore, Hooper said, the interview was conducted not by investigators – which is standard practice - but by MacDonald himself.

MacDonald countered that he was not alone during previous interviews with the witness, and said he was “not here to influence the witness or the chamber”.

During the hearing, the two accused sat close together, watching the testimony on a single computer screen. Katanga appeared to be taking notes, while Ngudjolo leaned back in his chair. They would often whisper to one another, which the presiding judge Bruno Cotte noted.

“The fact that you are seated next to each other doesn’t mean you can communicate with each other,” he said. Usually, the two accused sit next to each other, but at separate desks.

Throughout the examination, the witness was questioned extensively about the chain-of-command in Ngudjolo’s militia.

“Orders came from top to bottom,” said the witness. “It was commanders who issued orders to subordinates.”

At one point, the witness said that Ngudjolo – who he identified as “chief-of-staff” - would never issue an order directly to a low-ranking soldier. Later, however, he said that a soldier could approach Ngudjolo with information if it was deemed “important”.

The age of soldiers in Ngudjolo’s militia also came up repeatedly.

“The ages varied in the eastern region,” said the witness. “There were pygmies, so you could look at them and be mistaken about their ages.”

When pressed to pinpoint the age of the youngest soldier before the attack on Bogoro, the witness told MacDonald that “it would be better for that person to tell you his age”.

The trial continues next week.

Rachel Irwin is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.
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