Congolese War Crimes Suspect Ntaganda Denies Charges at Hague

Democratic Republic of Congo rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda told the International Criminal Court that he’s innocent of war crimes including murder, rape, sexual slavery and employing child soldiers.

A founder of Congo’s M23 rebel group, Ntaganda surrendered at the U.S. embassy in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, on March 18 and was transferred to a detention center at The Hague. Ntaganda stands accused of 10 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes allegedly committed in Congo’s eastern Ituri region, according to a 2006 arrest warrant and a second one issued last year.

“I was informed of these crimes but I plead not guilty,” Ntaganda told the pretrial chamber today during his first appearance. Presiding Judge Ekaterina Trendafilova interrupted Ntaganda and said the initial hearing is meant to inform him of the charges and the court was not ready to take a formal plea.

Ntaganda left Congo’s army last year amid concern he would be arrested, and helped start M23, which is fighting the Congolese army in the country’s mineral-rich eastern region. Last month, M23 broke into two factions, with the one controlled by Brigadier-General Sultani Makenga vowing to capture Ntaganda.

A status conference will be held on April 15 followed by a hearing to confirm the charges on Sept. 23, Trendafilova said.

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