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Congo Warlord Awaits ICC Trial

Analysts say the transfer of former Congolese warlord Germain Katanga to The Hague is an important step towards ending impunity in war-ravaged DR Congo. Katanga was transferred to the International Criminal Court Thursday to face war crimes charges, including leading a 2003 massacre that killed around 200 villagers in northeast Congo. Selah Hennessy reports from the VOA West and Central Africa bureau in Dakar.

Katanga is one of only two suspects who have so far been taken into custody at the international court.

Fatou Bensouda, deputy prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, says the court has targeted suspects based on evidence they were responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

"Between January, for instance, 2002 and December of 2003 more than 8,000 civilians have died and more than half a million were displaced from their homes in Ituri as a consequence of this conflict," said Bensouda. "And the evidence that we have will show how civilians were the target of massive crimes in the course of the conflict in the Ituri region of the DRC."

She says there is strong evidence that Katanga was personally responsible for the massacre in 2003 of around 200 people in the northeast village Bogoro.

"Katanga is the leader of a militia group who we allege is personally responsible for murder, for inhumane acts, and for sexual enslavement at Bogoro village," said Bensouda.

She says Katanga faces three charges of crimes against humanity and six war crimes.

Katanga was arrested in Congo in 2005 following the killing of nine U.N. peacekeepers; he has been in custody in Congo ever since.

Anneke van Woudenberg, a senior DRC researcher at Human Rights Watch, says the trial of Katanga and other war criminals is a hugely important step towards ending impunity in Africa.

"This is of course very important for the victims in Congo who have suffered hugely at his hands and at the hands of other warlords and it is these things that send a signal that the culture of impunity is coming to an end," said Woudenberg.

She says the court must ensure that the Congolese population is fully updated on the trial, which will be taking place a continent away.

"I think sometimes the difficulty is that The Hague seems very far away and sometimes it seems that things move very slowly," said Woudenberg. "It will be important for the court to explain it to the local communities most affected and to make sure that they are informed and involved in these proceedings."

She says the court is considering conducting part of the trial in Congo.

Muzong Kodi, an Africa analyst with London-based research group Chatham House, says the trial is very important.

But he says the international court has only gone after the smaller players in Congo's bloody conflict. He says most of the main offenders are still in Congo, bringing bloodshed to the country.

"The big fish are still continuing to reek havoc in the country," said Kodi. "Mr. Nkunda Batware is certainly one of the worst human rights violators in the country. He is still running around and people are trying to negotiate with him. I think that is a problem it sends the wrong message."

Laurent Nkunda is an ethnic-Tutsi rebel leader who has battled army and ethnic-Hutu forces in eastern Congo since August.

Thomas Lubanga, facing charges of recruiting and using child soldiers, will be the first person tried at the International Criminal Court. His trial is expected to begin early next year.