U.N. court acquits Congo rebel leader of war crimes

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Judges ordered Mr. Ngudjolo’s immediate release, but Ms. Bensouda said she would appeal the acquittals and asked for Mr. Ngudjolo to be kept in custody.

However, after a brief hearing later Tuesday, Judge Cotte again ordered him freed, saying that after an acquittal, “release should be more than ever the rule.”

It remained unclear exactly where Mr. Ngudjolo would go. Defense lawyer Jean-Pierre Fofe told the court that Mr. Ngudjolo most likely would stay in the Netherlands or in another European country pending the appeal.

Judges still are considering the evidence against another militia leader, Germain Katanga, who stood trial with Mr. Ngudjolo, and are expected to deliver that verdict next year.

Congo faces a myriad of rebel groups, including the emergence of one known as M23, sparking fighting that has forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes in the country’s volatile east.

Kambasu Ngeve, M23’s chief negotiator in ongoing talks with the Congolese government, said he was delighted by Tuesday’s acquittal.

“I still thought that all those were brought to the ICC in the Ituri case were innocent and that the real culprits were free,” he told The Associated Press. “It doesn’t surprise me. I only regret that he spent a long time in prison.”

Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mende said “the government takes note of this decision, which we cannot interpret because it’s a judicial order and justice is independent.”

The ICC, the world’s first permanent war crimes tribunal, came into being in 2002, and the treaty that created it has been ratified by 121 nations. Prosecutors so far have indicted suspects in seven different countries, all of them in Africa, including Congo, Sudan, Kenya, Libya and Ivory Coast.

• Associated Press writer Saleh Mwanamilongo in Kinshasa, Congo, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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