KINSHASA, Oct 18 (Reuters) A former Congolese warlord was flown to the International Criminal Court in The Hague today to face war crimes charges including murder, sexual slavery and recruiting child soldiers, a court spokeswoman said.
Germain Katanga, who had led the Patriotic Forces of Resistance of Ituri (FRPI) militia in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, was transferred from the custody of Congolese authorities in Kinshasa, ICC head of information Sonia Robla told Reuters by telephone.
He was the second Congolese war crimes suspect to be transferred to the global court. Another, Thomas Lubanga, was transferred to The Hague last year and war crimes charges were confirmed against him in what is the court's first trial.
Robla said Katanga had been 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.
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.
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 (HRW), 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.
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.
HRW's Van Woudenberg urged the ICC prosecutors to widen their investigation against the Ituri warlords.
''Go to Kigali (in Rwanda), go to Kampala (in Uganda), go to Kinshasa and go after the individuals who provided financing and military support to the warlords in Ituri,'' she said.
Congolese President Joseph Kabila, who won elections last year in the vast former Belgian colony, has vowed to bring peace to Congo's turbulent east.
He has ordered a military offensive to disarm the fighters of a renegade Congolese Tutsi general, Laurent Nkunda, who is operating in eastern North Kivu province. But he has declined to specify when the offensive might start.
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