Congo militia leader to go free as ICC cuts term

13th November 2015, Comments 0 comments

The International Criminal Court on Friday cut a 12-year prison term imposed on a Congolese militia leader for a brutal village attack, saying he would be freed in January after voicing regret.

Germain Katanga, 37, was sentenced to 12 years in prison last year after a massacre in a village in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

He was accused of supplying weapons in the 2003 ethnic attack in which some 200 people were killed, some of them hacked to death with machetes.

Following an appeal from Katanga, a panel of three judges from the war crimes tribunal in The Hague had reviewed his sentence "and decided to reduce it" to eight years and four months.

Including time served while awaiting trial, Katanga will complete his newly reduced sentence on January 18.

The panel cited Katanga's willingness to work with the court on its investigations.

The judges also found he had "repeatedly and publicly taken responsibility for the crimes for which he was convicted, as well as expressed regret for the harm caused to the victims by his action."

A spokesman for the court told AFP the judges' decision cannot be appealed, and the prosecution said it would not oppose his early release.

Arrested in the Congo 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 to try the worst war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Last month, the man once dubbed "Simba" the lion because of his ferocity, exercised his right to appeal to the tribunal to grant him early release after spending two-thirds of his sentence in jail.

Under ICC rules, time served in custody before sentencing is taken into account.

The 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.

- 'Cries of pain' -

Katanga also offered his apologies to the victims, insisting he had turned his back on the militias which still wreak havoc in the DR Congo.

The "immense pain" of his victims was something which "profoundly affected me," Katanga said, voicing "the sincerity of my regrets and the sadness that I feel."

"I have heard their cries of pain and suffering with a feeling of regret and respect," Katanga told the judges, adding he had too had lost his father and brother.

In May 2014, The Hague-based court found him guilty of complicity in crimes against humanity and war crimes over the February 2003 attack on the village of Bogoro.

A former member of the armed fighters of the Patriotic Resistance Forces in Ituri (FRPI), Katanga said he now wanted to live with his six children in his country and be a farmer.

He added he was also prepared to work with the UN special mission in the country and the government to rein in "residual groups of militias".

The judges also found that following his father and brother's death, Katanga was now "primary provider" for their families including his brother's three children.

"He must assume the 'responsibilities that fall on him within an African society" to care for other family members, including his mother and stepmother.

Another Congolese warlord and one-time adversary of Katanga, Thomas Lubanga, was jailed for 14 years in July 2012 for recruiting and enlisting child soldiers.

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

© 2015 AFP

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