DR Congo

DRC: MLC starts cannibalism trial, but without defence attorneys

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KINSHASA, 18 February (IRIN) - The trial of 27 soldiers of the Mouvement de liberation du Congo (MLC) rebel movement accused of committing acts of cannibalism and other violations of human rights began on Tuesday in the northwestern town of Gbadolite, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), although defence attorneys due to arrive from the capital, Kinshasa, were prevented from travelling.
"The trial did, in fact, begin this morning at 10:30 [local time], even though the attorneys from Kinshasa were blocked by authorities there," MLC leader Jean-Pierre Bemba told IRIN on Tuesday from Gbadolite. "We certainly hope that they will be able to get here."

He added that as justice was a power separated from his presidency, he did not know if the trial would continue or be delayed.

Meanwhile, attorneys in Kinshasa due to travel to Gbadolite to defend the accused expressed their frustration. "Agents of the commissariat-general in charge of the peace process prevented us from boarding the MONUC [UN Mission in the DRC] flight, saying that we did not have the necessary documentation," Olivier Kilima, one of the defence counsels, told IRIN in Kinshasa.

According to Kilima, agreement had already been reached between the Kinshasa government and MONUC regarding travel authorisation.

"The law states that once an attorney has received a letter from an accused individual requesting representation, if the attorney wishes to travel to any place within the republic to defend the accused, the attorney's word should be believed," said Kilima, noting that the Kinshasa authorities were not taking this fact into account.

The Kinshasa government also prohibited journalists from taking the flight to attend the trial, due to take place before a military court of the MLC, a rebel faction supported by Uganda.

"The MLC is not authorised to hold such a trial," said DRC Justice Minister Ngele Masudi, explaining why he could not allow either lawyers or judges to from Kinshasa to travel to Gbadolite. "This trial is an attempt at evasion on the part of Jean-Pierre Bemba," he said.

Bemba wrote to the Kinshasa bar to request attorneys for the defence of the 27 soldiers accused of having committed human rights violations in the towns of Mambasa and Komanda in the northeastern region of the DRC.

"The UN Security Council wrote to me to request that those responsible for human rights violations be held accountable," said Bemba.

The 27 soldiers were arrested after MONUC published a preliminary report confirming widespread accusations of cannibalism against the MLC and its ally, the Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie-National, led by Roger Lumbala.

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