Trial Begins for Soldiers Charged With Executing Dozens of Civilians in Congo

The military trial of 10 soldiers accused of killing dozens of civilians and dumping their bodies in mass graves began in Congo this week, officials said Thursday.

The troops, including several captains, are accused of forcing at least 30 people to work in harsh conditions before executing them.

The accused belong to a brigade combining former militia forces and government soldiers, part of an attempt to create a unified force in the Central African country ravaged by years of war and totalitarian rule.

The soldiers appeared before the tribunal Wednesday near Bunia, the capital of Ituri province, but because witnesses and families of the victims did not show up, prosecutors called for a recess until Jan. 2, said John Penza, military prosecutor for Ituri.

Penza said the bodies had first been buried in one mass grave, but were later moved to another spot in an attempt to conceal the crime.

Much of Ituri province, home to dozens of powerful local militia groups, has remained lawless and violent despite peace deals to end Congo's 1998-2002 civil war. Tens of thousands of people have died as a result of fighting in the last decade.

Earlier this month, Congo installed its first freely elected president in more than 40 years.