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Congo’s M23 Rebel Group Split Over Plan to Arrest Ntaganda

Feb. 28 (Bloomberg) -- The Democratic Republic of Congo’s M23 rebel group is split over a decision by one of its commanders to arrest General Bosco Ntaganda, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes.

“If the international community supports us, I guarantee you that in one week Bosco Ntaganda will be before the ICC,” M23 spokesman Colonel Vianney Kazarama said by phone today from Rutshuru, 1,610 kilometers (1,000 miles) east of the capital, Kinshasa. The group is preparing to arrest Ntaganda and his supporters in M23, he said.

Colonel Seraphin Mirindi, who also said he is a spokesman for M23, said the decision is opposed by some members of the group. “It was a unilateral decision by the high commander of the armed forces” of M23, Brigadier-General Sultani Makenga, Mirindi said by phone from Kibumba in eastern Congo today. Mirindi accused Makenga of “high treason” and said he didn’t know where Ntaganda is.

The Hague-based court accused Ntaganda of “murder, attacks against civilians, rape and sexual slavery, and pillage” in Congo’s Kivu provinces in 2002 and 2003. The ethnic-Tutsi rebel leader also faces ICC charges for using child soldiers in a separate conflict in eastern Congo’s Ituri region.

Fears that Ntaganda would be arrested spurred the creation of M23 in April, when rebels who had joined the national army mutinied along with the general. Ntaganda’s continued association with M23 is damaging the movement, which is in peace negotiations with the Congolese government, Kazarama said.

President Removed

Yesterday, Makenga removed Jean-Marie Runiga as president of the M23 political wing for his continued support of Ntaganda, according to an e-mailed statement from the group. Mirindi answered Runiga’s phone when called for comment by Bloomberg and said Runiga was still M23’s president.

The split is the “climax of a rift” within M23 that has existed for years between supporters of Ntaganda and Makenga, said Jason Stearns, who researches armed groups for the Nairobi-based Rift Valley Institute and headed a United Nations group of experts panel on Congo in 2008.

“Bosco Ntaganda does not want peace” and is forcing a power struggle, Stearns said by phone from Uvira in eastern Congo. “A peace deal means Ntaganda will be marginalized or arrested.”

Agreement Signed

On Feb. 24, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and officials from African regional organizations and 11 African nations, signed a framework agreement in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to bring about an end to almost two decades of conflict in eastern Congo. Kazarama said M23 supported the agreement. “The way forward depends on how deeply split the M23 is, and it depends on the attitude of Rwanda,” Stearns said.

Congo accuses neighboring Rwanda of supporting M23, a charge the country denies. Several Western countries have cut aid to Rwanda because of the accusations.

“If they feel that donor pressure is hurting their own economy, as it seems to be at the moment, they could withdraw their support,” Stearns said.

In 2009, Rwanda arrested the Congolese rebel leader Laurent Nkunda, a key ally of Makenga, and helped convince Nkunda’s rebel group to integrate into Congo’s army. Ntaganda replaced Nkunda at the head of the group after his arrest, and controlled the trade in minerals from eastern Congo, according to a series of annual reports by the UN independent group of experts on Congo. Eastern Congo is rich in tin ore, gold and coltan, an ore used in electronics.

U.S. Law

Last month, U.S. President Barack Obama signed into law an enhancement of the Rewards for Justice program, which offers a monetary reward for information leading to the arrest or conviction of individuals “accused by international criminal tribunals of atrocity-related crimes,” including commanders of M23. Rewards are usually as much as $5 million, according to the program’s website.

Kazarama said he was aware of the program and the reward.

Congo, almost the size of Western Europe, produces about half the world’s cobalt and about 3 percent of its copper. It has struggled to control its border regions since the official end of conflict in 2003.

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael J. Kavanagh in Kinshasa on Mkavanagh9@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin in Johannesburg at asguazzin@bloomberg.net.

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