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ICC defers militia leader's hearing

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THE HAGUE, 1 Jun 2006 (IRIN) - The International Criminal Court will hold the confirmation hearing in the case against former Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga on 28 September, three month later than the initial date set, ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo has said.

"I have requested this postponement because of the resurgence of violence in Ituri which poses the problem of the protection of witnesses," Moreno-Ocampo said on Wednesday during a media briefing at the court's headquarters in The Hague, the Netherlands.

"Witnesses and victims [of violence] are part of the trial; they have a role to play and that is why we have to protect them," Moreno-Ocampo added.

Lubanga is leader of the Union des Patriotes Congolais (UPC), which is mostly a Hema ethnic movement, and has been in the court's custody in The Hague since March. He faces war crimes charges including enlisting and conscripting children and actively using them in hostilities.

The procedural phase of his case was initially set to end with a confirmation hearing on 27 June.

The renewed fighting is in the northeaster district of Ituri, the base of Lubanga's former militia group, the UPC, now a political party. The fighting is between the Congolese army, which is backed by the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and militiamen who have refused to disarm and join a demobilisation and reintegration programme.

During one operation on 28 May, an undetermined number of civilians were displaced in Libi, a commercial centre north of Bunia, the district's capital. Operation Ituri Element III was an attempt to disarm militia loyal to the Front des Nationalistes et Intégrationnistes, a rebel movement of the Lendu people, which is a rival to Lubanga's UPC.

Moreno-Ocampo said the court was investigating all the groups in Ituri but was not yet ready to issue a second arrest warrant.

Meanwhile, Moreno-Ocampo said he hoped that the governments of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Sudan and Uganda would honour their commitment to help arrest Joseph Kony, the leader of Uganda's Lord Resistance Army (LRA) that has a base in northeastern DRC. An international arrest warrant for Kony and four of his aids was issued in October 2005.

News agencies reported recently that Kony had accepted to hold peace negotiations with the government of Uganda; and made the offer in early May during a meeting senior Sudanese official in southern Sudan.

Moreno-Ocampo said the Kony meeting could not be interpreted as a sign that Sudan would not cooperate in arresting the LRA leader. In 2005, Sudan signed an agreement with Moreno-Ocampo's office to implement the arrest warrants against Kony and his aides.

"I am happy that the arrest warrants are producing positive changes as violence in northern Uganda has drastically diminished," Moreno-Ocampo said.

However, he said Kony could still reorganise his fighters any time.

Regarding the situation in the war-torn Darfur region of western Sudan, Moreno-Ocampo said a 32-man team was investigating war crimes from the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, and 14 other countries.

"At this moment no one can investigate in Darfur without exposing witnesses," Moreno-Ocampo said.

Reacting to criticism by Dutch International Cooperation Minister Agnes van Ardenne that the court's work in Darfur was disappointing as the investigation phase was taking too long, Moreno-Ocampo said, "I understand that disappointment but as a prosecutor, I have to be patient and go on with collecting evidence."

Regarding an application filed by the Central African Republic against its former President Ange-Felix Patasse and a DRC vice-president and presidential candidate, Jean Pierre Bemba, Ocampo-Moreno said he was still monitoring the situation.


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