Congo Rebel Wanted for War Crimes Surrenders for Trial

Bosco Ntaganda, a rebel leader in the Democratic Republic of Congo wanted for war crimes, surrendered to the U.S. Embassy in Rwanda and asked to be sent to the International Criminal Court, the State Department said.

“He specifically asked to be transferred to the ICC in The Hague,” spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters in Washington yesterday. “We are currently consulting with a number of governments, including the Rwandan government, in order to facilitate his request.”

Ntaganda, the head of the M23 rebel group, is wanted by the ICC for war crimes in eastern Congo in 2002 and 2003. He left Congo’s national army last year amid fears he would be arrested and started M23. Last month, M23 split with a faction controlled by Sultani Makenga, which has vowed to capture Ntaganda.

Congo accuses neighboring Rwanda of supporting M23, a charge the country denies. Several Western nations have cut aid to Rwanda because of the accusations. Rwanda’s government had “nothing to do with Bosco Ntaganda” handing himself over to the U.S. authorities, Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said in a phone interview today from the capital, Kigali.

“He is on U.S. territory and now the issue is between the U.S., Congo and the ICC,” she said. “The U.S. is a partner state and we commit to give them any support they want.”

Murder, Rape

An ethnic Tutsi who was born in Rwanda, Ntaganda is facing seven counts of war crimes and three counts of crimes against humanity, according to the ICC’s website. Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s office accuses him of using child soldiers and “murder, attacks against civilians, rape and sexual slavery, and pillage” in Congo’s Ituri region in 2002 and 2003.

“For over 10 years now, Ntaganda has left a trail of atrocities across eastern Congo, leading his troops to murder, rape, and pillage,” Ida Sawyer, Human Rights Watch researcher on Congo, said in a statement on the New York-based group’s website. “The U.S. now needs to make sure he faces justice for these alleged crimes by immediately sending him to the ICC.”

The U.S. is “helping to facilitate” Ntaganda’s transfer to the ICC, Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues Stephen Rapp said on his Twitter feed yesterday. Neither Rwanda nor the U.S. has ratified the Rome Statute that established the court.

‘Swift Transfer’

The ICC is liaising with relevant states about the transfer, Pascal Turlan, international cooperation adviser at the ICC’s prosecutor’s office, said in an e-mailed response to questions. “We look forward to a swift transfer,” he said.

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

Ntaganda 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, gold and coltan, an ore used in electronics.

“Now we are seeing the end of impunity for warlords,” Congolese Media Minister Lambert Mende said yesterday by phone from Kinshasa, the capital. Ntaganda crossed the border into neighboring Rwanda on March 16, he said.

Congo is negotiating a peace deal with M23 in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, that could see most of its members reintegrated into the national army.

Last month in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, Congo signed a framework agreement with the United Nations, African regional organizations and 10 African countries to promote a lasting peace. Yesterday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appointed former Irish President Mary Robinson as special envoy to oversee the implementation of the agreement.

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