Last week, defendant Germain Katanga continued to testify in his own defense. Katanga is the first defendant to testify before the International Criminal Court (ICC). His co-accused, Mathieu Ngudjolo, will testify next. The two men are accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed during an attack on the village of Bogoro in eastern Ituri, DRC on February 24, 2003.
During the second week of Katanga’s testimony, he discussed the leadership structure of the combatants from Aveba. According to his testimony, Congolese People’s Army (APC) soldiers planned the attack on Bogoro. Testimony about various commanders and armed groups operating in Ituri emphasized the responsibility and role of groups like the APC (the armed wing of the RCD-K/ML (Congolese Rally for Democracy – Liberation Movement)), EMOI (the Integrated Operational Head Command), and the UPDF (Ugandan People’s Defense Forces).
This week, Katanga’s testimony also turned to the attack itself. Katanga denied that he participated in the attack or knew when it was going to occur. Katanga also denied that he had knowledge of crimes committed in Bogoro.
Katanga’s testimony distances him from the crimes that allegedly occurred in Bogoro, as he claims that he was in Aveba on the day of the attack. Importantly, although he admits being a leader among the Aveba combatants, Katanga testified that he did not have direct command or control over the combatants or fighters at the time of the attack. This contradicts the Prosecution’s charges of command responsibility for the crimes allegedly committed in Bogoro on February 24, 2003.
Katanga’s testimony is discussed in more detail below. When Katanga finishes his direct examination, he will be examined by the defense team for Ngudjolo and cross-examined by the Prosecution before answering questions from the victims representatives and the judges.
Katanga testified that DRC President Joseph Kabila created the EMOI in order to coordinate and control armed groups operating in Ituri. He claimed that Colonel Aguru was dispatched to Ituri to conquer the areas that had been occupied by rebel forces and integrate other resistance groups in the area. EMOI had many resources, he claimed, including ammunition, weapons and medicine. According to Katanga, EMOI commanders were acting on behalf of the Congolese military and understood military strategy.
The EMOI armed the APC, Katanga testified. He said he saw arms shipments arriving for the APC in Aveba that included rockets, guns, mortars, and other heavy artillery. Before these shipments came in, he said, there were no machine guns in Aveba, although there were a few AK47s.
Although the weapons were intended for the APC, the village combatants benefited from them as well, Katanga testified. He said the APC would give the combatants some boxes of ammunition on the eve of battle. They did not give much, Katanga testified, because the APC knew the combatants could “turn on them the next day.” He said that Mike Fore (phonetic) was the person who decided how to distribute the weapons.
Katanga’s Leadership over Aveba Combatants
Katanga downplayed his leadership and control over combatants from Aveba. He explained that his name spread around North Kivu when combatants went to fight south of Beni and used the cover story that they’d come from “Commander Germain” in Aveba.
He explained that the BCA camp was originally called the “Bureau of Combatants of Aveba,” where he was commander. However, he said that he changed his role from a commander to coordinator in Aveba in early December 2002. At this time, he said, the camp in Aveba became known as the Bureau for Coordination with Aveba (BCA).
Katanga first heard of the FRPI (the Front for Patriotic Resistance of Ituri, the group Katanga allegedly commanded) when he went to Bunia in November 2002. He said he was there for meetings with the APC and the FRPI to discuss how the APC and combatants could work together and the situation in Bogoro.
Later, the combatants in Aveba expropriated the FRPI name, he said, in order to foster a sense of identity. However, Katanga claimed that at the time it was not an official organization and did not have a president. According to his testimony, he only began having himself called the president of the FRPI after February 2004. From December 2002 until the time of the Bogoro attack, there was no formal hierarchy in the group, he said.
In addition to denying that there was a formal hierarchy and that he was in charge of the combatants, he explained that there was an overuse of the term “commander.” People would create names for themselves, he said, “giving free reign to their imagination…that they were strong men.”
On the eve of the Bogoro attack, Katanga said that he was the Aveba coordinator. He testified that his job was to bring the combatants closer to the APC and to transmit the instructions given by their allies. He was serving as a mediator between the soldiers in the camp and the people in the town, he claimed.
According to Katanga, the commander of the combatants in Aveba was Commander Mbadu at the BCA, and above Mbadu was Kasaki. Katanga explained that in terms of hierarchy he was in between Mbadu and Kasaki, but that he could not give commands to Mbadu.
Katanga denied having any control over any combatants. Commander Mbadu had full command over his combatants, Katanga testified. However, Katanga admitted that he had about sixty men in his nearby camp that were faithful and loyal to him.
About a month before the attack on Bogoro, Katanga testified, Mbadu’s authority began to fall away and Katanga began to have more authority over the BCA. At the time of the Bogoro attack, Mbadu was still the commander and Katanga would visit the BCA on occasion.
Katanga testified that Blaise Koka arrived in Aveba in early 2003 with a force of 150 soldiers. Koka was commanded directly by the APC, Katanga said. He also testified that EMOI forces arrived in Aveba to have an overview of the combatants and provide experts in military operations.
Planning the Attack on Bogoro
In his testimony, Katanga maintained that it was the APC that planned the military attacks in the region.
Katanga carefully distinguished between soldiers, those who fought for organized armed militias like the APC and UPDF, and “combatants,” who were local villagers fighting in self-defense. His testimony discussed how the APC and EMOI were in charge of military groups that the combatants cooperated with.
For example, when discussing attacks made by APC soldiers and combatants in late December 2002, Katanga explained that the APC soldiers were with the combatants and told them specifically where to attack. The APC commanded the fighters, he claimed.
Katanga explained that Bogoro was strategically important because the UPC was getting its weapons from Uganda, and because it was located on the road where supplies were taken from Uganda to Bunia. He said they needed to block Bogoro in order to keep the UPC from getting weapons.
February 10 Attack on Bogoro
According to Katanga, Blaise Koka carried out an initial attack on Bogoro on February 10, 2003, just two weeks before the attack that is the subject of the charges against Katanga. This attack was meant as a reconnaissance mission, he explained. Katanga admitted that he participated in this attack. He said it was a disaster and that they suffered more casualties that day than ever before.
After the attack, Katanga said that he returned to Aveba. Shortly thereafter, Adirodu arrived with weapons and ammunition. Adirodu purportedly ordered Koka to return to attack Bogoro immediately, before the UPC could regroup and gather more reinforcements.
Katanga then described an altercation between Adirodu and Kisoro, a rogue ex-APC soldier with a strong following of fighters based in a nearby village, Kiswara. Kisoro confronted Adirodu as he was trying to take off from the Aveba airstrip, Katanga said. To placate Kisoro momentarily, Katanga explained, they gave him weapons and ammunition—but in order to ensure that Kisoro would not attack them with the weapons, they gave him the wrong ammunition.
Katanga testified that when Kisoro learned that he had been fooled by the combatants in Aveba, he returned to attack them. They warded off the attack, Katanga said, but from then on were afraid to leave Aveba undefended.
February 24 Attack on Bogoro
Katanga denied that there were meetings between commanders in Aveba or Medu in the days before the February 24 attack on Bogoro.
Katanga said that the details of the attack on Bogoro were on a paper that had been prepared by EMOI. The commander of the attack was Blaise Koka, Katanga said.
Blaise Koka led his troops to Bogoro on February 20. Garimbaya followed with more men the next day. They traveled first to Kagaba to prepare their weapons and perform traditional pre-battle ceremonies. Aside from these troops, Katanga said that he did not know of anyone else from Aveba who participated in the attack. He said that other combatants might have gone, but it would have been risky and would have entailed negative consequences.
However, Katanga claimed that officers from the national army had been stationed in Aveba, and they went along on the Bogoro attack. He said that he was not sure whether Ugandans participated, but said he later saw Ugandans in a UPDF camp in Bogoro.
Katanga denied that he participated in the February 24, 2003 attack on Bogoro. He said that he could not leave Aveba for three reasons. First, he said that he was afraid of a reprisal attack from Kisoro. Secondly, he said that Kasaki forbade him from going because he had been unable to perform a ceremony for the dead left behind in Bogoro after the February 10 attack. Thirdly, Katanga said he had to stay in order to protect the munitions stored in Aveba. If it had not been for these reasons, he testified that he would have participated in the attack.
He said that although he was aware of an impending attack on Bogoro, he did not know it was going to happen on the 24th.
On the day of the attack, he said he heard the explosions from his father’s home. He took a motorbike to the health center to find out information on the situation in Kagaba. At the health center, Katanga said he learned that Bogoro had come under attack in the early hours of the morning. Around 10:00 or 10:30 a.m., Yuda arrived in Aveba, wounded in the left hand and the chest, Katanga testified.
Katanga said that after Yuda was injured, Yuda’s second in command automatically took over the Bogoro attack. So when Bogoro was taken, Androzo Zaba Dark stayed there as commander. “He was in charge of the entire situation,” Katanga said.
Crimes Committed During the Attack
Katanga testified that the combatants were taught that they must act according to Moses’ 10 commandments and not commit crimes during battle.
“We were following the Bible. But the thing is, we are going to war, we are going to kill the enemy,” he said.
When asked about civilian deaths during the Bogoro attack, Katanga responded, “A soldier cannot accuse himself.” He said that civilian deaths might have resulted from misdirected fire or if a shell missed its target. However, he claimed that the soldiers carrying out the attack were professional soldiers.
He denied receiving any reports of civilian deaths until he arrived in Bunia later that year to sign the peace agreement. Although it was normal to receive reports of soldiers’ deaths, he said, he would not have heard about civilian deaths during debriefings, since soldiers “would not accept that civilians had been killed.”
He also denied that looting could have taken place in Bogoro because there was nothing to loot there. He explained that the Hema did not raise agricultural crops, and that there was no pastureland in Bogoro to keep herds of cattle. He said that he did not see cattle leave Bogoro and pass through Aveba, which would have been the route taken by looters hoping to sell the cattle.
Katanga denied that he had met Ngudjolo before the attack on Bogoro. Apart from Chief Manu’s visit to Aveba in November 2002, there was no delegation from Zumbe or Bedu-Ezekere. He also denied that there was radio contact between the two localities, and that weapons were transported from Aveba to Bedu-Ezekere.
Travel to Bunia
After the attack, Katanga traveled to Dele, passing through Bogoro on March 8. He first met Ngudjolo in Dele on the eighth, he said. Katanga testified that he and Ngudjolo had coffee together on the morning of the ninth, and then went their separate ways.
Katanga’s testimony continues through the week of October 10, 2011.