DR Congo to prosecute militia leader Katanga, convicted by ICC

Bienvenu-Marie Bakumanya
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Katanga, pictured here in May 2014 at his trial at the International Criminal Court, is serving a 12-year sentence for war crimes and crimes against humanity (AFP Photo/HO)

Kinshasa (AFP) - The Democratic Republic of Congo said it plans to prosecute notorious militia leader Germain Katanga, who had been scheduled to leave prison in Kinshasa on Monday after completing a sentence handed down by the International Criminal Court.

"He will not leave" prison, Justice Minister Alexis Thambwe Mwamba told AFP in an interview Monday.

He said Katanga was implicated "in other cases just as serious" as the one he was convicted for by the ICC in 2014 -- that of arming an ethnic militia which in 2003 carried out a brutal village massacre, killing some 200 people.

One of the other cases concerns his alleged role in the killing of nine UN peacekeepers in the violence-torn Ituri region in the country's northeast in 2005, Thambwe Mwamba said.

Another, which is in the hands of military prosecutors, involves "contacts" that Katanga "continues to have with other officers who are being prosecuted".

The minister declined to give further details on this second case in order not to violate the confidentiality of the investigation.

He said Katanga would get a "fair" trial and have "access to all the lawyers that he wants to defend himself".

Katanga, 37, was sentenced to 12 years in prison last year by the ICC in The Hague for complicity in crimes against humanity and war crimes over the 2003 attack on the village of Bogoro, including murder and pillage.

Nicknamed Simba ("lion" in Swahili) due to his ferocity, he was convicted of supplying weapons to his militia in the attack in which some 200 people were shot and hacked to death with machetes, but acquitted of enforcing sexual slavery and using child soldiers.

In November, the ICC cut Katanga's sentence after he voiced regret and for good behaviour, and he had been scheduled to complete his prison term on Monday.

Last month Katanga and former warlord Thomas Lubanga, sentenced to 14 years by the ICC for recruiting and enlisting child soldiers, were transferred to a prison in Kinshasa to serve out their sentences.

Lubanga's request for early release was turned down by the ICC as "unjustified".

"For us it's a relief that Germain Katanga will be prosecuted over the other accusations against him," Junior Safari, head of the Ituri-based Congolese Association for the Protection of Human Rights, told AFP.

But he deplored the "lack of compensation or reparations for all the crimes committed" in the region.

- Apologies to victims -

Human Rights Watch had called on Kinshasa to convict Katanga on further charges upon his return home, urging a "fair and speedy trial".

Arrested in 2005 and then transferred to The Hague in 2007, Katanga was only the second person to be sentenced by the tribunal since it began work in 2003 as the world's first permanent court to try war crimes and crimes against humanity.

He would have been the first to be released from jail after serving out an ICC sentence.

A former member of the armed fighters of the Patriotic Resistance Forces in Ituri (FRPI), he has offered his apologies to the victims, insisting he had turned his back on the militias which still wreak havoc in parts of the DR Congo.

DR Congo was torn by two wars between 1996 and 2003, and its eastern provinces remain ravaged by conflicts between ethnic groups and local warlords and over control of mineral resources.

Many atrocities such as rape, killing and enslavement have been been committed, with almost all going unpunished.

But since 2014, Congolese authorities have taken steps to end the impunity that many of those responsible have enjoyed and which has been condemned by the United Nations and human rights groups.

President Joseph Kabila has named a special representative to tackle crimes of sexual violence and recruiting child soldiers.

Several senior officers, some of them former rebels integrated into the army, have been convicted of war crimes by Congolese courts.

The gold-rich Ituri region where the Bogoro massacre occurred has been riven by violence since 1999, when clashes broke out that killed at least 60,000 people, according to rights groups.