Congolese rebel Ntaganda testifying in his defense at ICC

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A Congolese rebel leader on trial at the International Criminal Court began testifying in his own defense Wednesday, saying that as a young rebel soldier he helped end the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Bosco Ntaganda, an ethnic Tutsi from Rwanda, briefly took the stand in the afternoon at the start of what is expected to be weeks of questioning by his defense lawyer and cross-examination by prosecutors.

He said that after seeing the horrors of the Rwandan genocide, in which hundreds of thousands of Tutsis and moderate Hutus were massacred, "I told myself that I do not wish to see any other community experience what my own community went through."

Ntaganda, known as The Terminator, has pleaded not guilty to 13 war crimes and five crimes against humanity including murder, rape and using child soldiers, allegedly committed in eastern Congo in 2002-2003.

When his trial started in 2015, Ntaganda cast himself as a peacemaker, saying he sought to protect civilians.

But prosecutors paint a very different picture, accusing him of leading rebels, including child soldiers, who killed, raped and persecuted innocent villagers in the resource-rich Ituri region of Congo.

First indicted in 2006, Ntaganda was for years a symbol of impunity in Africa, once even serving as a general in Congo's army, before turning himself in in 2013 as his powerbase crumbled.

Ntaganda's testimony Wednesday did not touch on his activities in Congo, instead describing his family background and early military career. He told judges he joined a rebel group called the Rwandan Patriotic Army at the age of 17 and underwent a four-month basic training before being selected for advanced leadership training and rising to the rank of regimental sergeant major while still in his teens.