updated 10/18/2007 7:46:24 PM ET 2007-10-18T23:46:24

A former Congolese militia leader and army general accused of masterminding the massacre of 200 villagers was taken into custody Thursday at the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Germain Katanga was the commander of the Patriotic Resistance Force in the lawless Ituri region of northeastern Congo when his fighters went on a murderous rampage in Bogoro village in February 2003, prosecutors at the war crimes tribunal have said.

As well as killing 200 civilians, they raped women and girls before forcing them into sexual slavery, conscripted children to use as soldiers, and imprisoned villagers in a room full of corpses, according to evidence presented to the court. The evidence prompted judges at The Hague-based court to issue an arrest warrant for Katanga, who went by the nom de guerre "Simba."

Judges at the court said there were "reasonable grounds to believe" that the attack on Bogoro was part of a systematic attack on members of the Hema ethnic group in Ituri carried out by Katanga's militia and an allied group between January and March 2003.

Witnesses have also accused ethnic Lendu fighters in Katanga's militia of eating the still-warm hearts and livers of their dead.

Once controlled by rival rebel factions who eventually signed a peace deal in 2002 to end a four-year civil war, eastern Congo has been wracked by fighting between local militias, renegade soldiers and the army for years.

Connected to peacekeeper killings
Katanga was made a general in the Congolese army by President Joseph Kabila in January 2005 as part of a power-sharing deal that ended the war. But two months later, he was arrested in connection with the killing of nine U.N. peacekeepers in northeastern Congo.

Katanga is believed to have been in custody ever since, although he has never been tried for those slayings. He was turned over to ICC representatives in Congo on Wednesday, then put on a plane bound for the Netherlands, court spokeswoman Sonya Robla said.

After arriving in the Netherlands, Katanga's warrant was unsealed at the court and he was transferred to a detention unit near the country's North Sea coast. He next has to appear before judges Monday to confirm his identity and hear the allegations against him.

The only other suspect in the cell block is Thomas Lubanga, head of a rival militia from the same region of Congo, whose trial on charges of recruiting and using child soldiers in Ituri is expected to start early next year. It will be the first trial at the ICC, which was set up in 2002.

More brutality investigated
ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said the court was investigating more brutal crimes in Congo.

"Today a second person from (Congo) is in custody, and he will not be the last one to face justice in the ICC," he said.

The court has had problems executing arrest warrants in the past because it has no police force and is forced to rely on the cooperation of other states to detain suspects.

The court has issued warrants for a Sudanese minister and Arab militia leader that prosecutors say are responsible for war crimes in Darfur, but Khartoum has refused to arrest them.

And in Uganda, leaders of the Lord's Resistance Army are involved in faltering peace talks with the government despite being the target of arrest warrants issued by the ICC.

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