ICC convicts DR Congo militia boss of war crimes

The International Criminal Court on Friday convicted Congolese ex-militia boss Germain Katanga of war crimes for arming an ethnic militia that carried out a 2003 village massacre with guns and machetes.

The Hague: The International Criminal Court on Friday convicted Congolese ex-militia boss Germain Katanga of war crimes for arming an ethnic militia that carried out a 2003 village massacre with guns and machetes.

"The chamber by majority finds Germain Katanga guilty... of complicity in the crimes committed on February 24, 2003," said judge Bruno Cotte.

Katanga was convicted of arming the Patriotic Resistance Forces in Ituri (FRPI) who then committed murder and pillaging, but judges cleared him of rape, sexual slavery and using child soldiers in the attack on Bogoro village.

The verdict was only the ICC`s third, and its second conviction since opening its doors more than a decade ago.

Katanga, 35, went on trial more than four years ago facing seven counts of war crimes and three of crimes against humanity for his alleged role in the attack on the eastern Congolese village in 2003.

Prosecutors said that at least 200 were killed in the massacre, while judges said that only 60 victims, mainly women, children and the elderly, had been identified.

Dressed in a grey suit, light blue shirt and black tie, Katanga, once known by his nickname "Simba" (lion), stood impassively with hands folded behind his back as the judgement was read.

"The chamber finds that Katanga made a truly significant contribution in the commission of the crimes," judge Cotte said.

"His involvement allowed the militia to avail itself of the logistics" to attack Bogoro, south of the mineral-rich Ituri capital of Bunia, near Lake Albert.

During Katanga`s trial, prosecutors alleged that Ngiti and Lendu tribes attacked Bogoro`s villagers of the Hema ethnic group with machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and machetes.

"The attack was intended to `wipe out` or `raze` Bogoro village," the judges said.

Child soldiers were used while women and girls were abducted and used as sex slaves, forced to cook and obey orders from FRPI soldiers, they said.

But the ICC`s judges found that although child soldiers were present in the FRPI and that sexual crimes were committed, prosecutors failed to prove Katanga`s direct involvement.

"The chamber was not able to confirm that Germain Katanga was present... or took part in the fighting or victory celebrations afterwards," judge Cotte said.

Katanga`s lawyers have 30 days to appeal. If the judgement is upheld, he faces up to 30 years in jail.Rights groups and the court`s chief prosecutor hailed the judgement, although some observers decried that it did not address the scourge of sexual crimes that raged during the wars in the vast Central African country`s volatile east, which borders Rwanda and Uganda.

"Today`s verdict is a victory for victims and their families," said William Pace, convener of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court.

"However it is concerning that those responsible for the crimes of rape and using child soldiers, which continue to blight the region, have yet to be brought to justice," he said.

The International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH) called it a "mixed verdict".

"Although the Court recognises the commission of crimes of rape and sexual slavery and the presence of child soldiers during this attack, the acquittal of the accused for these crimes is particularly disappointing," it said in a statement.

The UN`s top envoy to the DRC, Martin Kobler, welcomed the verdict as a blow to "impunity" in the country.

"Let this be yet another warning to armed groups to immediately cease attacks against civilians and lay down their arms," Kobler said in a statement.

ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told AFP she believed the judgement brought some justice to victims in Ituri, but said her office "will study today`s judgement very carefully before future comment."In 2004 Katanga was made a general in President Joseph Kabila`s army as part of a policy to end the civil strife -- until Kinshasa arrested him in 2005.

He was transferred to The Hague in October 2007 and his trial, together with that of his co-accused Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui, started two years later.

Judges in November 2012 split the trials and Ngudjolo was acquitted a year later after judges ruled that he did not play a commanding role in the Bogoro attack.

The Hague-based ICC, the world`s only permanent independent tribunal to try the world`s worst crimes, has so far only convicted one other suspect.

Katanga`s arch-enemy and former Congolese rebel fighter Thomas Lubanga was sentenced in 2012 to 14 years for recruiting and enlisting child soldiers.

In 2003, DR Congo was just emerging from a war that embroiled at least half-a-dozen nations, and its isolated east was rife with violent militias.

Devastating clashes broke out in Ituri in 1999, killing at least 60,000 people according to non-government group tallies.

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