Child soldier tells of school massacre

A former child soldier today described how he killed and mutilated victims during an attack on a church school when he was aged just 11.

A former child soldier today described how he killed and mutilated victims during an attack on a church school when he was aged just 11.

The boy, who cannot be named, was giving evidence against Congo warlord Thomas Lubanga at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

He gave a chillingly matter-of-fact account of the battle with fighters from the rival Lendu tribe near a missionary school in eastern Congo.

“We went as far as the mission. At the mission we killed those who were there, also the priests,” he said through an interpreter.

“We captured some of them, took them hostage,” he added. “We cut their mouths off. We would destroy their faces. That’s what the Lendu did too.”

He said he was forced into the army after being abducted while on his way home from school and sent to brutal military training camps run by militia leader Lubanga.

Lubanga, founder and former leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots political movement and its armed wing, has pleaded innocent to charges of recruiting and using child soldiers in tribal conflicts in 2002-2003.

The boy spoke nearly two weeks after he started giving evidence and then retracted it, apparently because he was scared of being in the same courtroom as Lubanga.

Today he said he passed through Union of Congolese Patriots training camps where he learned how to shoot weapons and was regularly beaten by older soldiers.

“We were told that whoever lost his rifle would be beaten to death,” he said.

He said he also was taught to smoke marijuana and drink beer. Prosecutors and rights groups say that armies that use child soldiers often drug them to calm the children’s nerves and desensitise them to the horrors of battle.

The boy told judges he saw Lubanga land at an airstrip in a light plane that delivered uniforms and weapons.

Lubanga is the first suspect to face trial at the International Criminal Court, the world’s first permanent war crimes tribunal. It was set up in 2002.

The court has only three other suspects in custody, all of them former Congolese warlords.

Judges are expected to announce within days whether they have agreed to a request by prosecutors to issue an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on genocide and other charges that he masterminded atrocities in his country’s Darfur region.

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