War crimes suspect Lubanga to stay in custody

7/07/2008 - 21:20

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The International Criminal Court (ICC) said on Monday that Congolese war crimes suspect Thomas Lubanga will remain in jail pending its final ruling on an appeal by prosecutors against an order that he be freed.

The ICC last week ordered the release of militia leaderLubanga, who is accused of enlisting child soldiers, becauseprosecutors were withholding evidence. But the court said heshould remain in custody pending the appeal, which prosecutorsfiled on July 2.

The court said in a statement that Lubanga would remain inICC custody until a final decision on the appeal is made.

"The reasons for the decision taken today by the judgeswill be given shortly by the appeals chamber," the court said.

Lubanga, who founded and led a militia in Congo's easternIturi district, was arrested in 2006 and is accused ofenlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15 from2002 to 2003. He has denied the charges.

The judges said last week they had given full considerationto the fears of Lubanga's alleged victims, who have warned thatfreeing the former warlord could ignite a "fire ball" inCongo's volatile Ituri region.

Experts estimate that a decade of violence in Congo haskilled 5.4 million people, mainly through hunger and disease.

The trial of Lubanga had been due to start on June 23. Thehalt to proceedings was a major setback for the court, set upin 2002, which now has 106 member states and is alsoinvestigating crimes in Sudan, Uganda and the Central AfricanRepublic.

The court took custody last week of its highest-profilesuspect to date -- Congolese former rebel warlord andvice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba, arrested in Belgium in May.

Bemba is accused of leading Congolese rebels who waged acampaign of rape and torture in the Central African Republic in2002/2003.

(Reporting by Gilbert Kreijger; Editing by Catherine Evans)

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