Two Norwegians sentenced to death in DR Congo: prosecutor

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A military court in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo has sentenced two Norwegians to death for the murder of a Congolese and for spying, the prosecutor said Thursday.

Joshua French, 28, and Tjostolv Moland, 29, were "sentenced to death for spying, criminal association, murder, attempted murder," Colonel Pierre Agabu, the prosecutor in the case before the court in Kisangani, told AFP.

The military court was conducting a retrial after the two former soldiers had previously been convicted of murder and sentenced to death, then seen the case thrown out because of "irregularities".

French, who also has British nationality, and Moland were charged with killing, on May 5, 2009, the driver of a car they had rented in Kisangani.

They were also convicted of illegal "possession of weapons of war" and "armed theft of a vehicle", Agabu said.

French and Moland were also ordered to pay along with the Norwegian state the sum of "60 million American dollars (50 million euros) to the DRC, equalling one dollar per Congolese, three million dollars for the widow, 1.5 million for the father of the deceased and 100,000 dollars for the Kisangani drivers' association," according to a copy of the verdict obtained by AFP.

The two, who were in Kisangani either as tourists or on business depending on varying reports, have said their driver was killed by bandits.

The court in the original case said Moland and French were in possession of valid military service ID cards when they were arrested and as serving soldiers were thus the responsibility of the Norwegian state.

When the two were accused of spying in the mineral-rich Orientale State and Norway was made a co-defendant, Oslo denied espionage charges and diplomatic relations became strained.

The pair were first convicted and sentenced to death by a lower court in September 2009, and two months later, the military appeal court confirmed the verdict.

But last April 22, the verdict was annulled by the high military court in the capital Kinshasa for irregularities noted in the appeal court, which meant that the retrial took place with new judges sent from Kinshasa.

The prosecutor said that Thursday's conviction and sentence was "practically the same text as was pronounced" in December 2009.

In a first reaction Britain's Foreign Office said it was "extremely disappointed" at the sentencing of French.

"We will be doing everything we properly can to support him in the coming weeks and months," a spokeswoman in London said.

"We are committed to supporting any British national who faces the death penalty and our prime concern in this case is to ensure that no execution is carried out."

She said Britain had previously made clear to the DR Congo government "our concerns around this case" and said it would support French and his legal team in any attempt to appeal, as well as providing consular assistance.

"We remain in regular and close contact with our Norwegian counterparts who we will work closely with to provide any assistance as required," she said.

DR Congo has not carried out a death sentence since President Joseph Kabila came to power in 2001, but commuted such penalties to life imprisonment.

© 2010 AFP

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