Recalling an audience with Congo warlord Lubanga

In 2003, a reporter listened as the militia commander denied that he employed children.

In June 2003, Thomas Lubanga welcomed members of the international press to his headquarters in Bunia, in the northeast part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Mr. Lubanga, whose militia was called the Union of Congolese Patriots, had shed his fatigues. He wore a dark suit, white shirt, and blue tie, and was clean-shaven – looking more like a bureaucrat than a warlord.

But outside, heavily armed militiamen patrolled the compound. One guard in a florescent orange shirt, machine gun in hand, looked like a boy.

But Lubanga denied his troops included children. "We have never used children militarily in our army," Lubanga said. "But child soldiers who are now here have been trained by Uganda. When the UPC was absent from Bunia, Uganda gave guns to children.... I have signed a decree that they will be disarmed."

Lubanga spoke in French, the language of the DRC's educated elite, saying his only goal was peace and justice for the people of Ituri, a region rich with gold and soaked in blood.

At the time, most of the country's major warring factions had signed a peace deal, but in Ituri, the civil war raged on.

He said he could not disarm as there was no one else to protect the people of the region, particularly his own Hema ethnic group who, he said, were victims of ethnic cleansing by the rival Lendu ethnic group. "There is no reason for us to disarm our soldiers," he said. "Disarmament should rather concern the people who caused the tragedy in Bunia."

He was a man of peace, he assured us, who had studied to be a priest and had a university degree in psychology.

"My mother," he said, "weeps for the heaviness of my responsibility."

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