Two men formerly with Norwegian Defense Force have been sentenced to death by a military court in the Democratic Republic of the Congo after being convicted of murder and espionage charges. Tjostolv Moland and Joshua French (who is also a citizen of the United Kingdom, according to the BBC) received their sentence on 8 September, 2009.
The charges stem from an incident on 5 May, in which their driver/translator, identified by the London Telegraph as Abedi Kasongo, was shot dead. Moland and French claimed that they were the victims of an attack by bandits. The former Norwegian Army soldiers were reportedly in the country scouting for contracts when the incident occurred.
PUNITIVE DAMAGES FOR NORWAY?
The court also fined the Norwegian government $60 million over the espionage, despite that government’s denial of any involvement. The Norway Post reported that the prosecutor had initially demanded $500 billion in damages from Norway. The Norwegian government has denied being a party to the case.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere was quoted by the BBC as saying, “From a Norwegian position we clearly denounce death sentences against two Norwegian citizens and we also clearly denounce accusations that there has been espionage on behalf of Norway.” The death sentence also drew condemnation from the European Union, which delivered a demarche to the Congolese Justice Department.
According to the London Telegraph, Moland and French departed from the Norwegian military under a cloud after allegedly trying to recruit fellow soldiers as contractors. After that departure, the two went to Africa, working in Sierra Leone and Angola, both places that had been known for conflicts over the years. The two men had been sharing an apartment in Uganda, but their reason for being in the Congo was not entirely clear. However, the London Guardian reported that billions of barrels worth of oil had been discovered in the region of the Uganda–Congo border. Even though the civil war in Congo was declared over in 2003, the region is still plagued by instability, including an August 2009 incident in which eight Ugandan fishermen were briefly held hostage by armed Congolese.
Whom French and Moland were working for was a mystery. The London Guardian, while reporting that a raid on their apartment turned up badges from a private security company, also noted that the company had stated a planned partnership had not worked out.
French and Moland have appealed their death sentence. A spokesman at the Norwegian embassy said that Norwegian consular officials were monitoring the situation, and emailed a statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which stated, “Representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will remain in Kisangani until further notice to assist the two Norwegian citizens in this difficult situation, and to assess what kind of help they will need in the time ahead.”
The Norwegian government has said it has received assurances from the Congolese government that neither French nor Moland will be executed. A voice mail and e-mail to the Congolese embassy requesting comments were not returned.