THE HAGUE, NETHERLANDS - A Congolese warlord convicted of using child soldiers appealed Friday to the International Criminal Court for early release from his 14-year sentence, saying he wants to go to university to research the causes of ethnic conflicts.
Thomas Lubanga, the first person convicted by the court, deployed children in a brutal conflict in the eastern Ituri region of Democratic Republic of Congo in 2002-2003.
His lawyers argue that Lubanga has been in custody — including time spent incarcerated before and during his drawn-out trial — for more than 12 years and is eligible for early release after serving more than two-thirds of his sentence.
However, prosecutors urged judges not to release him, saying he allegedly has been interfering with witnesses in another case linked to the conflict in Congo. Lubanga denied the allegations.
Luc Walleyn, a lawyer representing Lubanga's victims, said they fear his release could spark renewed tensions in war-ravaged eastern Congo, "and could ultimately lead to renewed armed conflict."
Lubanga has always denied knowingly using child soldiers in the armed wing of his Union of Congolese Patriots political movement, saying that he actively tried to demobilize children who had been recruited. On Friday he told judges, "to my mind, there is no place in an army for children."
He said that he wants to return to Congo and embark on doctoral studies in the city of Kisangani aimed at fostering peace between different ethnic groups in his country.
"I hope to help identify a new form of sociology that will help the tribal groups to live together in harmony," he said.
Judges did not immediately say when they would issue their decision.