BUNIA, 21 February 2007 (IRIN) - A military tribunal in Ituri District, northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, has sentenced five former militiamen to life imprisonment for killing two United Nations military observers in 2003.
A MONUC in convoy in northeastern DRC
"This sends a very strong message: the reign of impunity is coming to an end," Kemal Saiki, the spokesman for the UN Mission in the DRC, MONUC, said on Tuesday from Kinshasa, the capital.
The five, Uzele Ubemu, Jules Acida, Ufoyuru Agenong'a, Eric Ndjango and Aingani Aikoe, were members of Fronts des nationalistes intégrationnistes (FNI), an armed group active in Ituri. They were convicted of murdering Maj Saswat Oran of Jordan and Capt David Banda of Malawi on 13 May 2003 in Mongbwalu, a mining town 80km north of Bunia, the main town in Ituri.
The five were also convicted of crimes of war; killing and destroying UN equipment and, in addition, each convict must pay a fine of 53,000 Congolese francs (about US$100).
"Uzele Ubemu first shot the Malawian captain, David Banda, as he went into a helicopter, preventing him from making a radio call," Maj Innocent Mayembe, the judge and chairman of the tribunal, said.
The tribunal also sentenced Kashala Kabongo, who had been jointly tried with the five, to 20 years of hard labour. The court acquitted a seventh accused, Bakovi Aingui.
In another ruling, the court sentenced Capt François Molessa, alias Bozize, and 10 other soldiers to life imprisonment for killing 30 people in the village of Bavi, 32km south of Bunia, in August and September 2006. They were also dismissed from the army.
On 22 November 2006, military investigators from the tribunal and the UN's Human Rights Division in the Congo visited the Bavi army camp where they discovered three mass graves containing the remains of men and women who had been summarily executed.
"The victims were singled out as the enemy," Mayembe said. "The men were struck with iron rods and died."
The tribunal also ordered the convicts to pay compensation of between $5,000 and $20,000 to the families of the victims, depending on the individual soldier's worth.
However, a lawyer for the victims, Christian Lukusha, said: "We are relieved to see that the court has acknowledged the rights of the victims but it is too small an amount. We are asking the court to raise the compensation by $50,000."