The Hague - Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda was on Thursday to address his war crimes trial at the International Criminal Court, speaking publicly for the first time since he surrendered to the US embassy in Kigali in 2013.
Ntaganda, also dubbed “The Terminator,” faces 18 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity before the Hague-based court, where his trial is entering a second day.
Lawyers representing victims opened Thursday's hearing with more harrowing details of murder, rape and other horrors allegedly unleashed by Ntaganda's rebel forces from 2002-2003.
The trial - expected to last for several months - opened Wednesday with grisly images of bodies littering a banana plantation, as prosecutors accused the former rebel leader of running a campaign of terror in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
Ntaganda has been charged with ordering hundreds of deaths in savage ethnic attacks in the northeastern Ituri region, as well as the recruitment and rape of child soldiers within his own rebel army.
Prosecutor Nicole Samson showed judges graphic photos and video of bodies dumped in the fields after being indiscriminately slaughtered, allegedly by Ntaganda's rebel Union of Congolese Patriot (UPC) troops.
“Bosco Ntaganda was one of the highest commanders... he gave the orders to attack and kill,” ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told the three-judge bench.
Defence lawyer Stephane Bourgon was due to open his client's case later on Thursday.
Ntaganda, who has pleaded not guilty to all charges, is also due to make a statement.
It will be the first time he will publicly speak at length since he walked into the US embassy in Kigali out of the blue two years ago and turned himself in.
The motives behind his surrender remain unclear, but some experts have speculated that he feared for his life after a schism among the rebels.
Eastern DR Congo has been mired for two decades in ethnically-charged wars, as rebels battle for control of its rich mineral resources.
The unrest spiralled to encompass armies from at least six African nations, claiming an estimated three million lives in one of the world's most deadly recent conflicts.
Despite protesting his innocence, prosecutors say the feared rebel commander played a central role in the Ituri conflict which rights groups believe alone left about 60 000 dead since 1999.AFP