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DR Congo Bosco Ntaganda appears before ICC

Congolese war crimes suspect Bosco Ntaganda has appeared before the International Criminal Court at The Hague for the first time, following his surprise surrender last week.

Gen Ntaganda, a key figure in the conflict in eastern DR Congo, denies war crimes and crimes against humanity.

He said he pleaded not guilty, before the judge interrupted him and said he should not enter a plea at this stage.

He faces 10 counts, including rape, murder and using child soldiers.

Gen Ntaganda handed himself in at the US embassy in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, on 17 March and was flown to the Netherlands, where the war crimes court is based.

He has fought for a number of rebel groups as well as the Congolese army.

Most recently, he was believed to be one of the leaders of the M23 rebel movement, which has been fighting government troops in the east.

However, the seven counts of war crimes and three counts of crimes against humanity he faces relate to his involvement with a different rebel group – in the Ituri region of DR Congo, between 2002-2003.

He was part of the Union of Congolese Patriots rebel group, led by Thomas Lubanga who last year became the only person convicted by the ICC.

In court, Gen Ntaganda was informed of the charges and was told a confirmation hearing would be held on 23 September to determine whether there is enough evidence to put him on trial.

He told the court he was born in Rwanda but grew up in DR Congo and was a Congolese national.

He confirmed his profession as a soldier and said he preferred to speak in Kinyarwanda.

Eastern DR Congo has suffered from two decades of violence linked to ethnic rivalries and competition for the control of the area’s rich mineral resources.

The unrest began when some of the ethnic Hutu militants accused of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda fled into DR Congo.

Like those who have governed Rwanda since the genocide, Gen Ntaganda is an ethnic Tutsi.

Human rights groups have celebrated Gen Ntaganda’s surrender to the court as a victory for international law and the victims of atrocities in the region.

But some analysts have suggested his surrender was his last resort and only chance of staying alive after splits within the M23 rebels, the BBC’s Anna Holligan in The Hague says.