Two Congolese militia leaders commanded forces that raped, killed and looted civilians in an attack that killed 200 people during the Congo war, a war crimes prosecutor said.
Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui both pleaded not guilty before the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of directing the February 2003 attack on Bogoro village in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
"Some were shot dead in their sleep, some cut up by machetes to save bullets. Others were burned alive after their houses were set on fire by the attackers," Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said.
Others were shot as they fled, he said.
The attack took place towards the end of the 1998-2003 Congo war that left 4 million dead, mainly from hunger and disease, as rival groups fought for control of natural resources such as gold and diamonds.
Katanga, 31, an ethnic Ngiti, is said to have commanded the Patriotic Resistance Force (FRPI). Ngudjolo, 39, a Lendu, is accused of being the former leader of the National Integrationist Front (FNI).
They are charged with seven counts of war crimes and three of crimes against humanity, including murder, sexual slavery, rape, using child soldiers and pillaging.
Defence lawyers disputed whether Katanga or Ngudjolo were the commanders of the militias at the time of the attack, denied their involvement and accused both Uganda and DRC, which they said had much to gain from the attack.
David Hooper, defence counsel for Katanga, said both Rwanda and Uganda invaded the Congo to plunder and he highlighted the military and geographic significance of Bogoro.
Tracing the region’s changing allegiances, Ngudjolo’s defence counsel Jean-Pierre Kilenda raised the idea the highest authorities in Uganda and the Congo eventually "hammered out a plan" to force the UPC out of the region to gain control of it.
"The party with the greatest interest in this whole affair was the central government of President (Joseph) Kabila in Kinshasa," Hooper said.
Moreno-Ocampo said both the FRPI and FNI were in conflict with the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), mostly of Hema ethnicity, and attacked the village of Bogoro to open up a road link and prevent UPC attacks against Ngiti and Lendu targets.
He said hundreds of women, men and children attacked the village in the morning with guns, machetes and spears and did not distinguish between soldiers and civilians.
Villagers were "easy prey" as they sought refuge at a UPC camp in the village, he said.
Prosecutors say forces commanded by Katanga and Ngudjolo had encircled the village from the north and south, having jointly planned to have their forces meet in its centre.
"Victims lost everything," said Fidel Nsita Luvengika, one of two legal representatives defending the interests of 345 court-recognised victims.
He said the trial will help them to overcome their trauma and mourning, to establish truth and "to finish impunity".
Victims may participate in the trial by expressing their views and concerns. They can also seek compensation.
Tuesday’s trial is the ICC’s second trial and the first involving charges of murder after the court’s debut case focused on charges alleged Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga enlisted and conscripted child soldiers to the military wing of his UPC.
Prosecutors will call 26 witnesses, 21 of whom are protected witnesses. The trial is expected to take several months.