THE HAGUE — Three Congolese ex-fighters who gave evidence in a war crimes trial here are demanding asylum in the Netherlands as they fear for their safety back home, their lawyer said Friday.
"As they cannot ask asylum from the International Criminal Court (ICC), which is not a state, we have asked the court to present them to an authority that can examine their request for asylum, in this case the Netherlands," their lawyer Ghislain Mabanga told AFP.
The three, previously held in prison in the Democratic Republic of Congo capital Kinshasa in a domestic judicial process, were transferred to the ICC in The Hague in March to give evidence for the defence in the trial of militia leaders Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui.
Katanga and Ngudjolo are accused of murder and rape in an attack on the village of Bogoro on February 23, 2003, in which more than 200 civilians were killed.
Non-governmental bodies say that inter-ethnic and militia violence in Ituri is about control of the area's rich mineral resources and has claimed 60,000 lives since 1999.
In their depositions to the court, Pierre Celestin Mbodina, Floribert Ndjabu and Manda Charif implicated Congolese President Joseph Kabila in the attack on Bogoro.
"After these declarations, it is dangerous for them to return to their country of origin," the men's lawyer said.
ICC spokesman Fadi el-Abdallah said it was the first time that witnesses before the ICC, the world's first permanent and independent war crimes tribunal, have sought asylum in the Netherlands.
The men are being held at the UN Detention Unit in The Hague, where ICC suspects are also incarcerated.
Mbodina and Ndjabu have been held in the DR Congo for seven years and Charif since 2010 for reasons "that they do not exactly know themselves," their lawyer said.
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