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DR Congo militia boss faces ICC war crimes verdict

Katanga looks on during the closing statements in his trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague on May 15, 2012/AFP

Katanga looks on during the closing statements in his trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague on May 15, 2012/AFP

THE HAGUE, Mar 7 – The International Criminal Court was due to deliver its verdict Friday in the trial of Congolese ex-militia boss Germain Katanga, accused of using child soldiers in a 2003 attack on a village in the vast central African country, killing 200 people.

Judge Bruno Cotte is to read the verdict at 0830 GMT in the case against Katanga, the one-time commander of the ethnic-based Patriotic Resistance Forces in Ituri (FRPI), operating in the DR Congo’s mineral-rich northeast.

The verdict is only the ICC’s third since opening its doors more than a decade ago. It is also the first time sexual violence charges featured in a trial.

Katanga, 35, went on trial more than four years ago facing seven counts of war crimes and three of crimes against humanity, including murder, sexual slavery and rape for his alleged role in the attack on the small village of Bogoro on 24 February 2003.

Prosecutors allege that the man, once known as “Simba” (Lion), and his forces of the Ngiti and Lendu tribes attacked villagers of the Hema ethnic group with machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and machetes, murdering around 200 people.

“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.

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.

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Judges in November 2012 split the trials.

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

It 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 has 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, 25 kilometres (15 miles) south of Ituri province’s administrative capital Bunia, near Lake Albert.

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.

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