DRC militia chief to face war-crimes charges

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on Thursday transferred a militia chief to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague to face war-crimes charges, including sexual enslavement and using child soldiers.

Germain Katanga (29), who once led the Forces for Patriotic Resistance in Ituri (FRPI), was flown out of Kinshasa early on Thursday, a senior ICC official in the capital said.

Katanga, whose forces operated in the north-east Ituri region, was arrested in DRC in 2005.

He faces three charges relating to crimes against humanity and six relating to war crimes.

He is accused of murder, sexual enslavement and forcing children younger than 15 years to fight as soldiers, as well as leading attacks that deliberately targeted the civilian population, and of pillage.

ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo presented the charges in sealed documents in June of this year, said the official.

”The warrant was issued on July 2 and executed overnight with the collaboration of the Congolese courts,” he added.

The ICC was created five years ago as the world’s first permanent war-crimes court, but has yet to conduct a single trial.

Another Congolese warlord, Thomas Lubanga, was transferred to the ICC last year

After Lubanga, Katanga is only the second war-crimes suspect to be transferred into ICC custody.

Katanga was taken from Kinshasa central prison and flown out from Ndjili International Airport at 1am local time on a civilian aircraft chartered by the ICC.

The FRPI was set up at the end of 2002 with the support of neighbouring Uganda. Its members, from the Lendu and Ngiti ethnic groups, are suspected of having taken part in massacres of another ethnic group, the Hema.

In December 2004 Katanga, along with other Ituri militia chiefs, had been promoted to the rank of general in the DRC army in exchange for ordering his forces to disarm.

But this controversial policy — part of a bid to move on from the five-year civil war that ended in 2003, having killed about four million people — provoked an outcry both inside the country and abroad.

In a statement issued in January 2005, Human Rights Watch accused Katanga of having helped lead one of the worst massacres in Ituri, at Nyakunde Hospital in September 2002.

Witnesses had told them how over a 10-day period his fighters, together with another militia group, the Congolese Rally for Democracy-Liberation Movement (RCD-ML) ”systematically slaughtered at least 1 200 Hema and other civilians selected on the basis of their ethnicity”.

After having spent several months in one of Kinshasa’s main hotels, Katanga was arrested on March 11 2005.

The United Nations had joined the outcry over the impunity enjoyed by former militia chiefs accused of war crimes.

Lubanga (46), the former leader of the armed wing of his political Union of Congolese Patriots, faces charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

He too is accused of having forced children to fight in his force. Lubanga denies all the charges against him.

Lubanga’s and Katanga’s groups were just two of the six main movements that emerged during ethnic conflicts that ravaged the DRC’s eastern Ituri region from 1999.

The fighting in that region alone killed more than 60 000 people and forced more than 600 000 people to flee their homes.

It issued its first arrest warrants in October 2005 against Joseph Kony of the Ugandan militia the Lord’s Resistance Army, and four of his most senior deputies — specifically for murder, rape, mutilations and mass abductions.

The ICC indictments have become one of the sticking points to a final agreement between the Ugandan government and the LRA aimed at ending the two-decade conflict. — Sapa-AFP

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