Africa

Rwanda washes hands of Bosco Ntaganda

Jenny Clover, Reuters

Rwanda says it will not be responsible for DRC fugitive warlord Bosco Ntaganda's transfer to the International Criminal Court for war crimes.

Democratic Republic of Congo warlord Bosco Ntaganda. (AFP)

Ntaganda has walked into the US embassy in Rwanda on Monday asking to be transferred to the International Criminal Court.

Asked whether Rwanda would support Ntaganda's transfer to the Hague, Rwanda's Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said: "Rwanda has nothing to do with that decision: General Ntaganda is on US territory."

Ntanganda faces war crimes charges racked up during years of rebellion.

DRC government spokesperson Lambert Mende said Ntaganda crossed into Rwanda on Saturday with help from the country's army.

"We'd prefer to have him judged here but if he is sent to the Hague, that's no problem either," Mende said. "The most important thing is that justice is served."

Neither Rwanda nor the United States has an obligation to hand over Ntaganda to the Hague-based ICC since they are not parties to the Rome statute that established the court.

Shortly after she was officially named special envoy of the United Nations secretary general to the Great Lakes region, Mary Robinson on Monday called for countries to cooperate with the ICC.

'Shocked'
​By surrendering in Kigali, where an embassy official said staff were "shocked" by his sudden arrival, Ntaganda ended a career that saw him fight as a rebel and government soldier on both sides of the Rwanda-Democratic Republic of Congo border during nearly 20 years of conflict in Africa's Great Lakes region.

Ntaganda's whereabouts were unknown after hundreds of his fighters fled into Rwanda or surrendered to UN peacekeepers at the weekend following their defeat by a rival faction of M23 rebels in the mineral-rich east DRC.

"He specifically asked to be transferred to the ICC in the Hague," US state department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters in Washington.

"We are currently consulting with a number of governments, including the Rwandan government, in order to facilitate his request."

Swift surrender
ICC spokesperson Fadi El-Abdullah said the court would put in place all necessary measures to ensure a swift surrender.

Ntaganda faces charges of conscripting child soldiers, murder, ethnic persecution, sexual slavery and rape during the 2002/03 conflict in the Ituri district of north-east Democratic Republic of the Congo.

But according to a UN panel of experts, Ntaganda, nicknamed The Terminator, was most recently a leader of the M23 rebellion, which has pursued a year-long insurgency that embarrassed Kinshasa and UN peacekeepers by seizing the capital of North Kivu province, Goma, in November.

The experts said the rebellion was backed by Rwanda and Uganda, both of which deny sending troops to aid the insurgency.

Born in Rwanda, Ntaganda grew up in the DRC before fighting alongside Rwanda's Tutsi rebels who seized control of the small Central Africa country, ending the 1994 genocide in which over 800 000 people died.

Ntaganda then returned to the DRC, where he took part in a series of rebellions but also served temporarily as a senior general and made a name for himself smuggling minerals.

Infighting
Ntaganda's apparent defeat at the hands of rival rebel commander Sultani Makenga on Saturday came after weeks of infighting within the ranks of the M23, the latest Tutsi-led rebellion to take up arms against the distant government.

The M23 insurgency in resource-rich North Kivu was partly triggered by President Joseph Kabila's plan to arrest Ntaganda on the international charges. Ntaganda was integrated into the DRC army alongside other insurgents as part of a 2009 peace deal.

The ICC has been seeking Ntaganda's arrest since 2006 but Kabila had resisted acting on the warrant until April last year, saying Ntaganda was a linchpin in the fragile peace.

"For over 10 years now, Ntaganda has left a trail of atrocities across eastern Congo, leading his troops to murder, rape, and pillage," said Ida Sawyer, researcher at Human Rights Watch.

"The US now needs to make sure he faces justice for these alleged crimes by immediately sending him to the ICC in the Hague." Reuters

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