By Stephanie van den Berg
THE HAGUE, July 8 (Reuters) - International Criminal Court judges on Monday convicted former Congolese military leader Bosco Ntaganda for atrocities including murder, rape and conscripting child soldiers.
Ntaganda, 45, was found guilty for acts committed when he was military operations chief at the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) militia in east Democratic Republic of Congo in 2002-2003.
His conviction is a rare success for prosecutors at the ICC, an international court set up in 2002 to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity when member states are unable or unwilling to do so.
Ntaganda's sentence will be determined at a later hearing.
"The chamber ... having heard all the evidence mentioned by the parties, finds you as concerns count one, murder as a crime against humanity, guilty," said judge Robert Fremr, reading a summary of the ruling.
The court then found him guilty on all 18 charges.
His lawyers argued Ntaganda had sought to keep order among troops, punishing those who violated rules of war.
Ntaganda, in a dark blue suit, showed no emotion as the sentence was read out. He has 30 days to appeal.
In the conflict in Congo, Ntaganda's UPC, dominated by the Hema clan, targeted rival Lendu people for expulsion from the mineral-rich Ituri region. Hundreds of civilians were killed and many thousands were forced to flee.
"This ICC decision comforts the victims and the whole population of Ituri province, which was bereaved by the atrocities of Bosco Ntaganda's rebellion," said Xavier Macky, director of Justice Plus, a rights group based in the provincial capital Bunia.
He called the conviction a "contribution to the war against impunity."
Ntaganda's boss, UPC leader Thomas Lubanga, is serving a 14-year prison sentence after his conviction at the ICC.
The court has also convicted one of their wartime opponents, Germain Katanga.
The court has further convicted Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi, a Malian who confessed to destroying cultural property. Former Congo vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba was initially convicted of responsibility for crimes by fighters he sent to neighbouring Central African Republic - but was acquitted on appeal.
An ICC warrant for Ntaganda's arrest was first issued in 2006, and he turned himself in at the U.S. Embassy in neighbouring Rwanda in 2013, apparently having fled Congo due to infighting among military groups.
Judge Fremr paused at times during his summary to cite specific instances of acts Ntaganda was responsible for, such as his personal calls for children to join his forces, as well as killings by his men, including that of a pregnant woman kept in a pit.
"Rape was common practice," he said, citing one incident of a girl as young as nine being raped by fighters under his command. (Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg and Fiston Mahamba; Additional reporting by Hannah van der Wurff and Toby Sterling. Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Andrew Cawthorne)
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