Two Congolese former militia warlords have been released in the capital Kinshasa after serving long terms for war crimes handed down by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Germain Katanga was set free on Monday, 24 hours after the release of Thomas Lubanga, who in 2006 became the first person to be arrested under a warrant from the ICC in The Hague.
They were both jailed for playing a role in an ethnic conflict in the vast Central African country’s northeastern Ituri region that killed tens of thousands of people between 1999 and 2003.
Lubanga went on trial in 2009 accused of enlisting child soldiers under 15 and in 2012 was sentenced to a landmark 14 years behind bars.
He was greeted by about 100 supporters on his release from a jail in Kinshasa on Sunday, an AFP journalist saw.
Katanga arrived at the ICC in 2007 and was sentenced in 2014 to 12 years in prison for war crimes and crimes against humanity over a brutal attack by his forces on an Ituri village in 2003 in which some 200 people were killed.
Katanga’s nephew Jeannot Malivo Kagaba and a local NGO both confirmed to AFP that he was released on Monday.
Now 42, Katanga, nicknamed Simba (“lion” in Swahili) for his ferocity, was promoted to brigadier general of the Congolese army in 2004 in exchange for his militia surrendering. He was then arrested by Congolese authorities in 2005.
In December 2015, Lubanga was transferred from the ICC prison to Kinshasa to serve out the rest of his sentence with Katanga.
The pair’s release comes at a time of unrest in his native region of Ituri, in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s volatile east.
Lubanga headed the ethnic Hema community of herders and traders in deadly clashes with Lendu people, mainly settled farmers, between 1999 to 2003.
The fighting overlapped with the Second Congo War of 1998-2003, a conflagration that brought more than half a dozen foreign armies on to the country’s mineral-rich soil on rival sides.
More than 700 civilians, mostly Hema, have been killed in Ituri since 2017.
Some UN officials have characterised these killings as a possible crime against humanity, blamed on an extremist militia, the Cooperative for the Development of the Congo (CODECO).
Government soldiers on Saturday said they had killed several militia members, including an aide to the CODECO chief.
Local sources said at least five civilians were killed on Friday, part of a total of several dozen in the territory of Djugu.
Displaced people continued Saturday to converge on a camp at Bunia, the chief town of the area. Some women reported being raped by militiamen, while a priest said he lost three of his fingers in a machete attack.