International Criminal Court convicts DR Congo militia boss of war crimes

Congolese national and former militia chief Germain Katanga looks on during the closing statements in his and fellow former militia chief Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui's trial, at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague on May 15, 2012.

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 Feb. 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.

Dressed in a grey suit, light blue shirt and black tie, Katanga stood impassively with his 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 carry out the attack on Bogoro, situated 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 prosecution said.

Child soldiers were used while women and girls were abducted afterwards 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.

Split trials 

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.

On Friday, judges said that Katanga did not plan the attack on Bogoro as originally the prosecution alleged, but that Katanga rather was an accessory to the crimes committed.

Ngudjolo was acquitted in December 2012 after judges in that case said the prosecution failed to prove he played a commanding role in the Bogoro attack.

That was the first time the ICC, the world's only permanent independent tribunal to try the world's worst crimes, had acquitted a suspect.

Katanga, who pleaded not guilty to the charges, consistently maintained he had no direct command or control over FRPI fighters at the time.

He denied ever being present at time of the attack on Bogoro, 15 miles south of Bunia.

The Hague-based ICC has so far only convicted one other suspect, Katanga's arch-enemy and former Congolese rebel fighter Thomas Lubanga, who was sentenced in 2012 to 14 years for recruiting and enlisting child soldiers.

In 2003, Dr Congo was just starting to emerge from a war that embroiled the armies of at least half-a-dozen nations, and the country's isolated east was rife with violent militia groups.

Clashes in Ituri broke out in 1999 and devastated the region, killing at least 60,000 people according to non-government group tallies.