ICC takes custody of 2nd Congo war crimes suspect

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AMSTERDAM, Oct 18 (Reuters) A former Congolese warlord was taken into custody by the International Criminal Court in The Hague today to face war crimes charges including murder, sexual slavery and recruiting child soldiers, the court said.

Germain Katanga, who led the Patriotic Forces of Resistance of Ituri (FRPI) militia in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, was handed over by Congolese authorities in Kinshasa, ICC prosecutors said. He was flown to the Netherlands today.

''Today, a second person from the DRC is in custody, and he will not be the last one to face justice in the ICC,'' Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said in a statement, adding that officials were working on a third arrest.

The first, Thomas Lubanga, was arrested in 2005 and transferred last year to The Hague, where war crimes charges were confirmed against him in what is the court's first trial.

The two accused are being held separately in the same Dutch prison in The Hague.

Katanga was arrested on an ICC warrant listing three allegations of crimes against humanity and six of war crimes, charges that, under court procedure, still had to be formally confirmed by the international tribunal. He will appear in court within a few days to face charges, Deputy Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said.

The case against Katanga related to an alleged massacre and abuses committed by the FRPI militia he led in the northeastern Congolese province of Ituri in 2003. The specific charges against him included murder, inhuman acts, sexual slavery, attacks on civilians and recruitment of child soldiers.

''The Democratic Republic of Congo is still engulfed in violence. There is forced displacement of people, sexual violence of shocking brutality, and killings.'' Moreno-Ocampo said. ''It must stop. Perpetrators must know they will be prosecuted.'' ''A SIGNIFICANT STEP'' Human rights campaigners welcomed Katanga's transfer to the ICC. ''It's a significant step forward that another individual has been transferred to The Hague,'' Anneke Van Woudenberg, a Congo researcher with Human Rights Watch, told Reuters.

Speaking from New York, she urged ICC prosecutors to investigate what she said were the ''political masters'' of Congolese militia chiefs who pillaged, raped and killed civilians in Ituri in 2002 and 2003.

Prosecutors declined to give details of the third case on which they were working.

''We continue with the investigation and are progressing,'' Bensouda said. ''We are comfortable with the pace.'' The ICC prosecutor alleges that Katanga's FRPI fighters committed criminal acts against mostly civilians of the Hema ethnic group in Ituri province between January and March 2003.

''The (pre-trial) chamber found that there were reasonable grounds to believe that Mr Katanga, as the highest ranking FRPI commander, played an essential role in the planning and implementation of an indiscriminate attack against the village of Bogoro, in the territory of Ituri, on or around 24 February 2003,'' the ICC said in a statement on its Web site.

The acts committed included the murder of about 200 civilians, causing serious bodily harm to civilians, arresting, threatening with weapons and imprisoning civilians in a room filled with corpses, pillaging, the sexual enslavement of several women and girls, and the use of children under 15 to participate actively in the attack.

REUTERS SKB MIR KP1922

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