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11 Apr 2012 20:52
In a marked turnaround, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) president called on Wednesday for the arrest of a notorious ex-warlord who has been serving in the country’s army despite an international indictment on war crimes charges.
Bosco Ntaganda is accused of using child soldiers for fighting in north-east DRC from 2002 to 2003. He was first indicted on war crimes charges in 2006 by the Netherlands-based International Criminal Court.
President Joseph Kabila said on Wednesday that Ntaganda should be arrested and face a military tribunal in the DRC, presidential spokesperson Andre Ngwej told the Associated Press by telephone.
Kabila said the military doesn’t need to hand Ntaganda over to the ICC.
“We ourselves can arrest him because we have more than 100 reasons to arrest and judge him right here [in Goma], and if not here, then in Kinshasa or elsewhere in our country,” Kabila said in the Swahili language.
The president made the comments during a meeting with community leaders in the country’s remote east province of North Kivu.
International court prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said Ntaganda is a fugitive and needs to be brought to justice.
“He should be arrested, for the sake and the security of victims and citizens in the whole region,” Moreno-Ocampo said.
In the past, Kabila had refused calls to hand over Ntaganda, arguing his co-operation was essential to keeping the peace in the troubled east of the country where numerous local militias and foreign rebels operate.
Ntaganda was integrated into the Congolese army along with unknown hundreds of troops under a peace deal ending a 2009 rebellion that was negotiated as the rebels were about to take the provincial capital of Goma.
The integration has allowed large portions of east DRC to come under the dominion of Ntaganda’s troops, who are largely from the Tutsi ethnic group and are accused of raping, looting and otherwise brutalising other communities.
Kabila also noted on Wednesday that the army was not supposed to be tribal.
Human Rights Watch expert on the DRC Anneke van Woudenberg said that Kabila’s government is legally bound though to transfer Ntaganda to The Hague after referring the crimes committed in the DRC to the ICC in 2004.
The DRC government will have to submit a request to the ICC if it now wants to try Ntaganda domestically before a military tribunal, Van Woudenberg said.
“There is a lot of value in judicial trials taking place close to where the crimes occurred, but after years of conflict the DRC’s justice system remains weak and is unlikely, at this stage, to be able to try Ntaganda’s crimes in a free and fair process,” she said.
The DRC president’s announcement follows clashes this week between troops loyal to Ntaganda and other soldiers in the Congolese army in the eastern town of Rutshuru, according to the army spokesperson for east DRC Major Sylvain Ikenge.
Ikenge said that a colonel and a major responsible for the mutiny had fled into the bush with a small number of troops.
In a 2010 interview, Ntaganda vigorously denied the allegations and said he did not fear arrest on the ICC charges.
“I don’t think that the UN is able to arrest me in Congo because they have arms that I also have and that can protect me when they try to arrest me,” he said. “If it is established that I committed crimes, I won’t hesitate to answer them to a court in my country. But I will never accept answering charges by the international court.”
Pressure has been mounting for Ntaganda’s arrest since the International Criminal Court convicted another DRC warlord Thomas Lubanga last month of using child soldiers, the first judgment in the court’s 10-year history.
The ICC prosecutor stepped up the pressure against the DRC last month after Lubanga’s conviction, saying he would travel there to press Kabila to hand over Ntaganda.
Ntaganda “should not be a general” in the DRC army, Moreno-Ocampo said. “It is time to arrest him.”
Moreno-Ocampo also has said that he plans to add charges of murder and rape to Ntaganda’s indictment, a move that was welcomed by human rights groups.—Sapa-AP
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