July 16, 2010 / 4:00 PM / in 7 years

ICC prosecutors appeal Lubanga release order

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - International Criminal Court prosecutors appealed on Friday against an order to free Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga, whose trial for war crimes was halted by judges.

<p>Thomas Lubanga, leader of Congo's UPC rebel group (Union of Congolese Patriots) talks to villagers, June 5, 2003. REUTERS/Antony Njuguna</p>

The trial judges in Lubanga’s case on Thursday ordered his release, saying he could not be held on a “speculative basis” with no set date for his trial to resume.

Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo told reporters on Friday that his office had filed the appeal and was confident of winning an order suspending Lubanga’s release.

At issue is the identity of an intermediary, used by the prosecutor’s office to help find witnesses. Lubanga’s trial was suspended on July 8 after the prosecution refused an order to turn over the intermediary’s identity to the defence.

The prosecution had insisted the intermediary needed physical protection before his identity could be revealed.

But the intermediary is also a potential witness in another Congo war crimes case, that of Germain Katanga, and the court in that case has now ordered protection for the witness.

Moreno-Ocampo said the protection order in the Katanga case eliminated the problem in the Lubanga case and there was no longer a reason why the identity of the witness could not be revealed to the defence team and therefore the case could proceed.

Lubanga is accused of enlisting and conscripting children under 15 years of age to his Union of Congolese Patriots to kill members of a rival tribe in a 1998-2003 war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He has pleaded not guilty and described himself as a politician, not a warlord.

Lubanga’s trial resumed in January, six months after prosecutors ended their case. His defence has argued that the former child soldiers who testified against him made up their stories.

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