Former Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) warlord Bosco Ntaganda defended himself before his trial in the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Thursday, saying he was a “revolutionary rebel” and “not a criminal.”
He spoke for the first time since he surrendered to the US embassy in the Rwandan capital in March 2013 and asked to be sent to the ICC court in The Hague.
He said "I ask you to make a distinction between a revolutionary rebel and a criminal. I am not a criminal."
The Rwandan-born Ntaganda, nicknamed "the Terminator" for his reputation as a brutal commander, is facing up to 18 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the rape of child soldiers within his own rebel faction.
His lawyers said he protected civilians during a power vacuum in the region.
"I never attacked civilians, on the other hand your honours, I have always protected them," he told the judges on his second day of trial in The Hague.
He said that he is not the infamous killer as described. "I am not the Bosco Ntaganda depicted by the prosecution yesterday [Wednesday]," he continued.
Ntaganda is believed to have played a vital role in vicious ethnic attacks on civilians in the northeastern DRC province of Ituri between 2002-2003, in a conflict that human rights activists believe left some 60,000 dead since 1999, according to prosecutors.
"Ntaganda recruited hundreds of children ... and used them to kill and to die in the fighting," ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said. The female soldiers were "routinely raped," she added.
"This trial is about Bosco Ntaganda and how he took advantage of the ethnic tensions in Ituri to gain power and money," she said.
The Ituri region is rich in oil, diamond and gold.
Ntaganda hid for seven years before his surrender and had fought for 15 years before that. The UN experts claim that the M23 rebels, the rebel group he was fighting for, was backed by Rwanda, which Rwanda denies.
He had started his military carrier in 1994 on the side of Tutsis in Rwanda, which ended the genocide of 800,000 of Tutsis and moderate Hutus.