(Updates with victims' reactions from Congo)
By Stephanie van den Berg
THE HAGUE, Nov 7 (Reuters) - The International Criminal Court sentenced former Congolese military leader Bosco Ntaganda on Thursday to 30 years in prison for atrocities including murder, rape and conscripting child soldiers.
Ntaganda, 46, was found guilty in July on 18 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for acts committed when he was military chief of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) militia in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in 2002-2003.
At Thursday's sentencing, Judge Robert Fremr said there were no real mitigating circumstances and issued the 30-year sentence, the longest handed down by the Hague court to date.
"The crimes for which Mr Ntaganda has been convicted, despite their gravity and his degree of culpability, do not warrant a sentence of life in prison," Fremr said.
Ntaganda, in a dark suit, listened intently to the judges during the ruling. He is already appealing his conviction.
In the conflict in Congo, Ntaganda's UPC, dominated by the Hema clan, targeted rival Lendu people for expulsion from the mineral-rich Ituri region. Hundreds of civilians were killed and many thousands were forced to flee.
During the sentencing, judges described the "systematic rape" of the UPC's female members by their fellow militants under Ntaganda's leadership including the rape of a child soldier as young as nine.
"We welcome the fact that sexual violence charges were included in this case because those victims were left out (in previous Congo cases before the court) putting them in a very difficult situation," said Xavier Macky of the Justice Plus NGO in Bunia. The victims are now hoping that the court will move into the next phase which could see them receive reparations for the harm they suffered.
Ntaganda's 30-year sentence "sends a powerful message that those who commit serious crimes against the people, no matter their positions, can be held to account", Ida Sawyer, Human Right's Watch deputy Africa director, said in a statement.
The ICC is an international court set up in 2002 to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity when member states are unable or unwilling to do so.
Ntaganda's boss, UPC leader Thomas Lubanga, is serving a 14-year sentence after his conviction at the ICC on charges of conscripting and using child soldiers. (Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg and Fiston Mahamba; Editing by Catherine Evans, Angus MacSwan and Giles Elgood)