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Congolese Militia Leader Acquitted, Ordered Freed

Congolese ex-militia boss Mathieu Ngudjolo, center, awaits verdict on at the International Criminal Court (ICC), The Hague, December 18, 2012.
The International Criminal Court has ordered the release of Congolese militia leader Mathieu Ngudjolo, after finding him not guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Court officials turned down a request from prosecutors Tuesday to keep Ngudjolo in custody pending an appeal. It was not immediately clear where he will go.

Ngudjolo was charged in connection with a 2003 massacre at a village in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Prosecutors alleged that Ngudjolo used child soldiers, directed attacks against civilians, and that combatants under his command committed murder, rape and acts of pillaging and sexual slavery.

The court in The Hague ruled Tuesday that prosecutors failed to prove Ngudjolo's connection beyond a reasonable doubt.

Ngudjolo's lawyer, Jean-Pierre Kilenda Kakengi Basila, said they were expecting the acquittal and that any other ruling would have been a shock.

"Since the beginning of the process Ngudjolo said that he is not guilty," Basila said. "Any other judgment than this one would have been a surprise for us. This case showed that this court respects the rights of defendants."

The attack on Bogoro village in Congo's Ituri province left about 200 people dead. Many of the victims were hacked to death with machetes.

Human Rights Watch said the acquittal of Ngudjolo leaves the victims of Bogoro and other massacres by his forces without justice for their suffering.

Ngudjolo went on trial at the ICC in 2009 along with another defendant, Germain Katanga, who is awaiting the verdict in his case.

Defense attorneys said the two men had nothing to do with the attack, and accused the Congolese and Ugandan governments of planning the massacre to retake the village from a militia group.

Fighting over natural resources broke out in Bogoro as Congo's civil war came to a close.