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International Court Acquits Ngudjolo of Congo War Crimes

Dec. 18 (Bloomberg) -- The International Criminal Court in The Hague acquitted Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui of war crimes and crimes against humanity because of insufficient proof that he oversaw a 2003 massacre in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

ICC prosecutors had argued that Ngudjolo commanded a rebel force known as the Patriotic Resistance Forces of Ituri, or FRPI, that attacked the village of Bogoro in Ituri district on Feb. 24, 2003, killing at least 200 people. The decision by three ICC judges that the prosecutors didn’t prove their case “beyond reasonable doubt” was unanimous. One of the judges filed a concurring opinion, the court said in a statement on its website.

“The fact of deciding that an accused is not guilty does not necessarily mean that the chamber finds him innocent,” according to the statement. “Such a decision simply demonstrates that, given the standard of proof, the evidence presented to support his guilt has not allowed the Chamber to form a conviction ‘beyond reasonable doubt.’”

The Ngudjolo verdict is the second decision handed down by the court in its 10-year history. Both cases involved fighting in Ituri in 2002 and 2003 between mainly ethnic-Lendu rebel groups, such as Ngudjolo’s FRPI, and ethnic-Hema rebels. In July, the ICC sentenced Thomas Lubanga, who controlled a mainly Hema rebel group called the Union of Congolese Patriots, to 14 years in prison for using child soldiers.

Lubanga’s deputy, Bosco Ntaganda, is also wanted by the court and is still at large, leading another rebel group in eastern Congo known as M23. Nearly a million people have been displaced in Congo’s North and South Kivu provinces since the M23 revolt began in April, according to the United Nations. Prosecutors have 30 days to appeal the Ngudjolo decision, according to the ICC statement.

In a second decision today, the judges said Ngudjolo should be released immediately, Paul Madidi, spokesman for the ICC in Congo, said by phone from the capital, Kinshasa. The prosecutor will appeal that decision tomorrow, he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael J. Kavanagh in Kinshasa at mkavanagh9@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin in Johannesburg at asguazzin@bloomberg.net.

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