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Lubanga's neighbors split over war crimes trial

The Congolese ex-militia leader is the first man to stand trial at the International Criminal Court. Back home, some defend their native son as simply protecting his people.

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ICC: Thomas Lubanga's trial began in January.

Michael Kooren/AP/FILE

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With his unseeing eyes, Innocent may not be able to watch the world put his father on trial. But he is convinced what the outcome should be.

Blind since childhood, as he stands in front of what was once his grandmother's home on the outskirts of Bunia, he says he is certain that his father is not guilty. "I am proud of my father," Innocent says, quietly. "He is a good man, and I hope that one day I will get to meet him again."

But the international community has other ideas. A continent away, Innocent's father, Thomas Lubanga, is the first man ever to stand trial at the International Criminal Court in the Hague. A former militia leader during northeast Congo's bloody ethnic wars, he is accused of sending boys and girls younger than his teenage son into battle. At the trial, witnesses have spoken of being abducted and forced to kill when as young as 11. Mr. Lubanga denies the charges.

During the Ituri war, Lubanga led the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), an ethnic Hema militia in the region. From 1999 to 2004 districts and villages across the region fractured along ethnic lines as a half dozen militias from the rival Hema and Lendu communities, supported by the Ugandan and Rwandan armies, fought one another for control of territory and the region's mineral wealth. In 2005, Lubanga was captured by United Nations peacekeepers in Ituri, before eventually ending up in The Hague.

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