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The International Criminal Court confirmed on Monday that it had filed charges against former warlord Bosco Ntaganda, nicknamed "The Terminator", for war crimes in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The judges "unanimously confirmed charges consisting in 18 counts of war crimes... and crimes against humanity," against Ntaganda, including rape, sexual slavery and conscription of child soldiers, the Hague-based court in a statement.
The judges pored over 69,000 pages of evidence before concluding there were clear grounds to charge him with "a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population" between 2002 and 2003 when he was military chief of the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC).
The militant group, drawn from the Hema ethnic group in the conflict-ravaged east of the country, carried out brutal sectarian attacks against non-Hema groups including the Lendu, Bira and Nande.
Fighting in eastern DRC has left some 60,000 dead since 1999, exacerbated by the wealth of mineral resources in the region, notably gold and minerals used in electronic products.
Ntaganda, who is now 41, was one of the most sought-after fugitives in the Great Lakes region of Africa until March 2013, when he handed himself in voluntarily.
By then, he had become one of the founders of a new militant group, the M23, which had launched another armed rebellion in eastern DRC. With two arrest warrants hanging over him, and the M23 splitting into bitterly opposed factions, Ntaganda fled for his life to the US embassy in Rwanda.
Human Rights Watch welcomed the charges.
"Ntaganda's trial should motivate the ICC prosecutor to take her investigation in Congo to the next level and go after the senior officials ultimately responsible for the region's atrocities," said the group's international justice advocacy director, Geraldine Mattioli-Zeltner.
The charges against Ntaganda are focused on two specific incidents -- one in the area of Banyali-Kilo between November and December 2002 and one in Walendu-Djatsu the following February.
Former FPLC commander Thomas Lubanga was sentenced to 14 years in prison in 2012 for conscripting children under 15 and using them in hostilities.