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Congo Opens Kabila Military Trial

March 16, 2002

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KINSHASA, Congo (AP) _ Congo opened a military trial Friday in the mystery-shrouded 2001 assassination of dictator Laurent Kabila.

Some 100 men and women _ Kabila’s former guards and aides, as well as the wives and girlfriends of suspects _ crowded a prison courtroom to face undisclosed charges. Military prosecutor Col. Charles Alamba said the charges would be revealed Tuesday.

Human rights groups say many of the accused have been tortured during a year in custody. Few, if any, have had access to lawyers or information on the case against them, they said.

``Their right to defense has been denied. We just met them in the courtroom for the first time,″ said Lofele Lifeyi, a lawyer for the defendants.

Laurent Kabila, a longtime rebel who seized power in 1997, was shot at his desk in the presidential palace in Congo’s capital, Kinshasa, on Jan. 16, 2001.

Soldiers in his presidential guard accused one of Kabila’s young bodyguards of firing the fatal shots. They executed him within hours of Kabila’s killing.

Laurent Kabila’s son, Joseph, succeeded him as Congo’s leader.

A presidential inquiry commissioned by Joseph Kabila concluded that Congo’s enemies in the country’s 3 1/2-year-old war with its neighbors and with Congolese rebel groups conspired to kill Laurent Kabila.

It has offered no public evidence of that claim, and many suspect the killing stemmed from a power struggle among the slain leader’s one-time allies.

Most of the accused are members of Kabila’s former presidential guard, including Eddy Kapend, Kabila’s cousin and his former security chief and aide de camp and Gen. Jean Yav Nawej, former military commander for Kinshasa.

Fifteen other suspects were still at large, Alamba said.

Laurent Kabila’s reign plunged the sprawling Central African nation into war in 1998. Rebels backed by Rwanda and Uganda seized parts of the north and east; the government has held the rest with the help of the armies of Zimbabwe and Angola.

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