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Congolese warlord Germain Katanga was convicted on Friday of being an accessory to war crimes including murder and pillage — only the second conviction in the 12-year history of the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
The judgment, albeit by a split verdict after a six-year trial, brings some relief to prosecutors who have faced growing criticism, notably for at least five cases that collapsed either pre-trial or pre-verdict because of a lack of evidence.
Two of the three judges found that Katanga had made a significant contribution to a February 2003 attack on the village of Bogoro, in a diamond-rich region of northeast Congo, by procuring guns to speed the massacre by ethnic Lendu and Ngiti fighters of some 200 ethnic Hema civilians.
"The timing of the attack and the methods used - encircling the village while its inhabitants were still asleep, the use of machetes to attack them, and shooting indiscriminately - led the chamber to find that combatants intended to target the civilian population," said presiding judge Bruno Cotte.
Attackers fired indiscriminately as villagers sought shelter in the bush, he added. "Absent that supply of weapons ... commanders would not have been able to carry out the attack with such efficiency."
Katanga was, however, acquitted of charges of rape and using child soldiers, and can appeal against his conviction. He could be jailed for up to 30 years when he is sentenced in several months' time.
Apart from accusations of working too slowly, the ICC has also faced criticism for so far only bringing charges against Africans, while atrocities in conflicts in the politically-charged Middle East and elsewhere go unpunished.
Although more than 100 nations have recognized the court's jurisdiction, Syria is among the exceptions, meaning that the civil war there remains beyond the ICC's reach.