AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Judges at the International Criminal Court on Friday granted early release to convicted war criminal Germain Katanga, making the Congolese warlord, sentenced to 12 years prison in 2014, the first ICC convict to be freed.
Katanga, known as Simba during his time as a feared militia leader, was the second person to be convicted by the permanent global war crimes court. The time he spent in custody after being handed to the court in 2007 counted towards his sentence.
The ICC, set up in 2002 to prosecute the most serious international crimes, has been criticized for its slow pace of work, handing down just three verdicts since its inception at a cost of more than 100 million euros a year.
Judges, who automatically review sentences once prisoners have served two thirds of their time, said Katanga had demonstrated good behavior and regretted his crimes.
"(He has) repeatedly and publicly taken responsibility for the crimes for which he was convicted, as well as expressed regret for the harm caused to the victims by his actions," the court said in a statement.
Katanga was convicted on one count of crimes against humanity and four of war crimes for leading his militia, the Patriotic Resistance Force in Ituri, in a 2003 attack on the village of Bogoro, killing some 200 civilians.
Another Congolese warlord, Thomas Lubanga, was sentenced to 14 years in 2012 for crimes including using child soldiers. He remains in the court's jail while it seeks agreement with one of its member states to enforce his prison sentence.
The conflict was just one in a series of wars that have scarred the mineral-rich province of Ituri, in the north east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, in recent decades.
Katanga, who is still in the court's seaside detention center in The Hague, is due to be released on January 18. It was not immediately clear where he would go on his release.
(Reporting By Thomas Escritt; editing by Ralph Boulton)