Congolese war crimes suspect hands himself over at US Embassy
WASHINGTON — Congolese war crimes suspect Bosco Ntaganda has handed himself over to the United States Embassy in Kigali, Rwanda, where he has asked to be transferred to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Ntaganda, who is about 40-years-old, has been on the run from the ICC since 2006, when he was charged with using child soldiers in his militia during the Democratic Republic of Congo's vicious civil war. He has spent much of this time living a lavish lifestyle in eastern Congo.
"He specifically asked to be transferred to the ICC in The Hague. We're currently consulting with a number of governments, including the Rwandan government, in order to facilitate his request," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Monday.
According to Nuland, Ntaganda simply walked into the US embassy in the morning hours local time. Analysts said the move was a sign of desperation.
Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo tweeted about Ntaganda's presence at the embassy. She later appeared on local radio and said she did not know how the man known as "The Terminator" had entered her country.
Rwanda and Uganda have been accused by UN experts of backing Congolese rebel group M23, which is largely comprised of ethnic Tutsis and was formed early last year to take up arms against the government in Kinshasa.
Ntaganda is one of the leaders of M23, which recently split into two factions that have since been fighting each other.
The faction loyal to the ICC suspect has lost ground to the rival group, and many of its fighters and top leaders have now fled to Rwanda.
Meanwhile, the rival M23 faction, headed by the group's military chief, Sultani Makenga, is pushing ahead with plans to sign a peace deal with the Congolese government that could spell more problems for Ntaganda's group.
Uganda, which is also acting as a mediator between M23 and the Congolese government, said a deal could be signed as early as next week.
Kigali is seen as being closer to Makenga recently. It has viewed Ntaganda as a useful ally but also a liability, owing to the war crimes warrant hanging over him.
"Bosco was really on the run for a few days and he didn't have many options left. This is the move of someone on the run with no options left," said Thierry Vircoulon, a Congo expert with the International Crisis Group.
In 2009, Rwanda arrested its key ally in eastern Congo, Laurent Nkunda, who also led an uprising against Kinshasa. He remains in Rwandan custody though he has never been formally charged.
Vircoulon said Rwanda is now in a tight spot, as Ntaganda has knowledge about Kigali's involvement in regional conflicts.
If he were to appear before the ICC, he could let loose secrets that would prove embarrassing or even show illegal violations of sanctions on Congolese rebels.
The network of alliances in the volatile eastern Congo, where M23 is based, is murky and can shift quickly. The region contains vast mineral resources, including cobalt, which is used to make mobile phones, and copper.
Much of the regional fighting is over controlling the resources and trade routes. Cash from the mineral sales helps fuel the conflict, which has been ongoing at greater and lesser levels of intensity since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda spilled over the border into Congo.
The only person to have ever been tried and convicted at the ICC is Congolese national Thomas Lubanga, 52, who last year was found guilty of using child soldiers. He and Ntaganda were in the same umbrella political grouping.
Lubanga was handed a 14 year sentence which, taking into consideration his time served as a detainee, is to expire in 2020.