Norway on Tuesday condemned a Congolese military court's death sentence passed on two of its nationals, calling the move "completely unacceptable”. The two are charged with murdering their driver during a visit to the country.
AFP - A court in the Democratic Republic of Congo sentenced two Norwegians to death on charges of murder and espionage Tuesday and ordered the Oslo government to pay 60 million dollars in damages.
Tjostolv Moland, 28, and Joshua French, 27 -- both former soldiers -- were convicted by a military court in the regional capital Kisangani for killing their driver on May 5.
Norway immediately condemned the sentence and rejected the allegations of spying, for which it has been ordered by the court to pay 60 million dollars in reparations as well as 500,000 dollars' compensation to the victim's family.
Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said the sentence was "completely unacceptable" and that he would protest to his Congolese counterpart.
"Norway also repudiates the verdict of espionage for Norway and the decision that the Norwegian state must bear joint and several liability for damages. Norway is not a party in this case," he said in a statement.
The minister said his government would hold the Congolese authorities responsible for the safety of the two Norwegians.
"Norway’s Ambassador to DR Congo will meet the Congolese authorities in Kinshasa today to pass on this message. It will also be communicated to the DR Congo’s Embassy in Stockholm," Gahr Stoere added.
The two men pleaded not guilty, saying they had gone to the mineral-rich Orientale Province region as tourists, but questions have been raised about what the two men were doing in a part of country largely untouched by tourism.
French was arrested on May 9 in the Epulu game reserve, around 200 kilometres (120 miles) from Kisangani and home to the rare Okapi or "forest giraffe," a cross between a giraffe and a zebra.
Moland was arrested two days later in the Ituri district, a few hundred kilometres (miles) further northeast.
Moland had set up a security company in Kampala, the capital of neighbouring Uganda, where he had hired French as an employee.
Prosecutors had demanded that exemplary damages be imposed and responsibility placed with Norway.
"The Norwegian state should pay 60 million dollars -- one dollar for every Congolese," prosecuting counsel Lieutenant-Colonel Roger Wabara told the court.
Defence lawyer Guillaume Likwela said the verdict was flawed because the men were not given an interpreter for the trial, carried out in French, which neither speaks.
Though it remains on the statute books, the death penalty is no longer applied in the DR Congo and capital punishment is commuted to life imprisonment.
The Norwegian foreign minister said Norway would protest about the imposition of the death penalty nonetheless.
"Norway is against the death penalty on principle, and I will contact the Congolese foreign minister to make our position clear," he said.
Under Congolese law, the men could be tried in a military court because firearms had been used in the crime.
Date created : 2009-09-08