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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
11 July 2006

DRC: Trial begins despite former militia leader's absence

BUNIA, 11 Jul 2006 (IRIN) - A military tribunal in Ituri, in the north-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), is hearing a case against a former militia leader, Yves Kahwa Panga Mandro, despite his refusal to attend court because of what he describes as the 'influence' over the court by the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC).

In a letter to the military judge, John Penza, Kahwa said on Monday when the trial began: "I confirm my refusal to appear before the civil or military court in Ituri because I am convinced the courts are under MONUC influence. I therefore ask my lawyer, Modeste Magene, not to represent me."

This was the second time Kahwa failed to appear before the tribunal. The first hearing was on 19 June.

Kahwa was a major in the former militia movement Union des patriotes Congolais (UPC) of Thomas Lubanga and founder of the Parti pour l'unité et la sauvegarde de l'intégrité du Congo (PUSIC), one of the remaining active militia groups in Ituri.

"Since failing to appear in court is an offence punishable with a jail term of more than one year, the law authorises the tribunal to assign a defence of one or more lawyers on his behalf for the trial to continue," said Maj Innocent Mayembe, the judge-president of the military tribunal garrison in Bunia.

"To ignore this order is against the law," he added.

Subsequently, lawyer Joseph Lobi from Kisangani, capital of Orientale province, will represent Kahwa. However, Lobi requested a week to prepare for the ‘delicate’ task of defending Kahwa.

After consultations with a representative of the victims, Karine Bapinga of the NGO Lawyers Without Borders, the hearing was adjourned to 14 July.

Kahwa is charged with committing crimes against humanity on 15 and 16 October 2002, when he is accused of setting fire to a health centre, schools and churches in the Zumbe locality in Bedu Ezekere, 10km south-east of Bunia, in which at least 10 people died.

He is also charged with organising the PUSIC insurrection movement in 2002 in Tchomia, 60km south-east of Bunia, which continues to cause unrest in Ituri together with an alliance of several militia groups known as the Mouvement révolutionnaires Congolais (MRC).



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