The Hague - Former warlord Bosco Ntaganda played a "key role" in ethnic crimes in the Democratic Republic of Congo, using child soldiers and capturing sex slaves for his rebel army, the International Criminal Court heard on Monday.
The man known as "The Terminator" appeared at The Hague-based court where judges will decide if there is enough evidence to charge him for crimes committed in the central African country a decade ago.
"Bosco Ntaganda... prosecuted civilians on ethnic grounds through deliberate attacks, forced displacement, murder, rape, sexual enslavement and pillaging," ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told judges at the pre-trial hearing.
She has five days to persuade the judges that he should be tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity, committed by Ntaganda's rebel army in the DR Congo's restive east in 2002-3.
"Bosco Ntaganda's role was central to this army. He was the... military commander in charge of operations," said Bensouda. "He personally used child soldiers in attacks."
Prosecutors allege that Ntaganda, who handed himself in to face charges in a shock move last year, led "by negative example", raping child and women soldiers and keeping them as sex slaves.
This "communicated a message of official approval and further contributed to the crimes," court documents said.
One female child soldier received 150 lashes and was raped as punishment, Bensouda told the court.
Her wounds "took a month to heal", she said.
Wearing a charcoal suit and sporting his trademark pencil moustache, Ntaganda listened intently, but showed no emotion as the evidence was presented.
Founder of M23
Ntaganda is the founder of the M23 rebel group Kinshasa eventually defeated late last year after an 18-month insurgency in the eastern DR Congo's North Kivu region.
He is facing 13 counts of war crimes and five of crimes against humanity over abuses allegedly committed a decade ago when he was a warlord in Ituri, further north.
Prosecutors say at least 800 people were killed by Ntaganda's Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (FPLC) as they battled rival militias for control of the mineral-rich area.
At his first appearance in March last year, Ntaganda told judges: "I was informed of these crimes and I plead not guilty."
His lawyer Marc Desalliers said his client was not the "caricature" painted by the prosecution, criticising references to his nickname, "The Terminator".
The judges have two months to make a decision on proceeding to trial.
Commander sentenced to 14 years
The first-ever suspect to voluntarily surrender to the ICC, Ntaganda walked into the US embassy in the Rwandan capital Kigali 11 months ago and asked to be sent to The Hague.
Observers said Ntaganda was possibly fearing for his life as a fugitive from a rival faction in the M23 movement, although his motives remain unclear.
The ICC had issued two arrest warrants against Ntaganda - the first in 2006 and a second with additional charges in 2012.
The Rwandan-born Ntaganda is suspected over attacks on a number of Ituri towns over a period of a year starting in September 2002.
Prosecutors accuse Ntaganda of leading a November 2002 attack on the gold mining town of Mongbwalu that lasted six days and left 200 villagers dead.
Born in 1973, Ntaganda is the fifth African in ICC custody.
His former FPLC commander Thomas Lubanga was sentenced to 14 years in jail in 2012 on similar charges, the court's only conviction since it was set up 11 years ago.
Ntaganda had managed to evade arrest after the tribunal's first warrant was issued mainly because he remained a powerful commander.
In 2006, he became a military leader for the CNDP, an ethnic Tutsi rebel group led by Laurent Nkunda.
The insurgency was ended by a peace deal that integrated the ex-rebels into the army. Ntaganda was made a general and began building a parallel command inside the military.
He activated that network to form the M23 in 2012 when President Joseph Kabila signalled he was ready to comply with the ICC warrant and have him arrested.
UN and other experts accuse Rwanda of being Ntaganda's master and pulling all the strings in the M23, an allegation Kigali has consistently denied.