ICC sentences DR Congo rebel leader to 14 years

The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague on Tuesday sentenced former Congolese rebel leader, Thomas Lubanga, to 14 years in prison.

Mr. Lubanga was found guilty in March of recruiting and using hundreds of child soldiers in the Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of Congo during the country’s civil war, which formally ended in 2003.

It is the court’s first verdict since it started work a decade ago.

Under the Rome Statute, the treaty which created the ICC, judges can hand down a maximum sentence of 30 years or life imprisonment.

The prosecutor’s team had demanded a tougher sentence, but the court rejected the call, noting the defendant’s cooperation with the ICC.

Mr. Lubanga, 51, who has been imprisoned in The Hague since 2006, has maintained his innocence. During the Ituri conflict, rights groups estimated that tens of thousands of people died.

Judge Adrian Fulford said he would deduct from the sentence the time the former rebel leader has already spent in ICC detention since his trial began.

The judge noted that the “vulnerability of children means that they need to be afforded particular protection that does not apply to the general population’’.

Meanwhile, the conflict in the Eastern Congo has threatened to escalate. Rebel forces from the M23 movement had taken over key towns near Goma, the capital of the region, and seem poised to advance on the city.

The M23 is largely comprised of soldiers who defected from the Congolese army this year.

Analysts have warned that unless some sort of mediation begins soon, there is a chance the conflict could erupt into a full war, as has happened in the past 18 years.

Some 200,000 people have fled the latest wave of violence in the region. A UN report accused Rwanda of helping to fuel the conflict, charges the government denies.

Kigali has repeatedly invaded its larger neighbour since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, during which some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed by ethnic Hutu extremists.

Those massacres set off the subsequent wars in Congo.

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