Kigali: Democratic Republic of Congo rebel Bosco Ntaganda, wanted by the International Criminal Court for a string of alleged atrocities, has surrendered to the US embassy in Kigali, US and Rwandan officials said Monday.
Ntaganda asked to be sent to the ICC, the world’s permanent independent war crimes court, said US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
“I can confirm that Bosco Ntaganda… walked into the US embassy in Kigali this morning. He specifically asked to be transferred to the ICC in The Hague,” she told reporters in Washington.
Nuland’s comments confirm an earlier statement by Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo that the rebel general had “presented himself” at the US embassy in Rwanda’s capital.
Nuland said that Washington was in contact with the ICC and the Rwandan government, adding that the United States “strongly (supports) the ICC and their investigation on the atrocities committed in the DRC”.
DR Congo government spokesman Lambert Mende said Sunday that Ntaganda had fled to neighbouring Rwanda, which has been accused by Kinshasa and the United Nations of masterminding, arming and even commanding M23 rebels in resource-rich east of the vast country.
Ntaganda, a former general nicknamed “The Terminator” and widely seen as the instigator of the M23 group’s rebellion against Kinshasa last year, is wanted by the ICC on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity including rape, murder and recruiting child soldiers.
Neither Rwanda nor the United States are signatories to The Hague-based ICC’s founding document, the Rome Statute, and therefore would not be obliged to hand Ntaganda over to the tribunal.
However, his presence in the embassy raises thorny diplomatic issues for both Washington and Kigali.
Kinshasa earlier demanded that Kigali refuse to give asylum to the Rwandan-born Ntaganda.
ICC spokesman Fadi el-Abdallah told AFP late Monday that the court was trying to confirm Ntaganda’s surrender.
“If this information is confirmed, the court will make the necessary arrangements for the transfer of Ntaganda to The Hague,” he said, adding that “nothing prevents a state which is not a signatory of the Rome Statute from cooperating with the court on a voluntary basis.”
Fighting between the M23 — mainly ethnic Tutsi army mutineers — and Congolese forces in the eastern province of North Kivu has displaced 500,000 people since last May, according to the UN refugee agency.
Over 25,000 Congolese fled to Rwanda, according to officials in Kigali.
Mushikiwabo on Sunday had scoffed at Kinshasa’s claims that Ntaganda had entered Rwanda, but said that 600 fighters from the M23 had crossed into the country, including its former political leader Jean-Marie Runiga.
Runiga — seen as loyal to Ntaganda — has been fighting rivals within the M23 under the group’s military chief Sultani Makenga.
Kigali, which accuses Kinshasa of sheltering and supporting Rwandan rebel groups thought to include perpetrators of the 1994 genocide, signed a deal aimed at ending the crisis along with other regional countries last month.
That accord aims to encourage the reform of weak institutions in the troubled former Belgian colony and calls for countries in the region to stop interfering in each other’s affairs, but its signing coincided with a rupture within the M23.
Earlier on Monday, Ugandan Defence Minister Crispus Kiyonga, mediator of talks between the DR Congo government and the M23, said talks would resume in Kampala in one week, following a delay caused by the vicious infighting between the rebel factions.
The alleged atrocities the feared Ntaganda has been charged with were committed in the Ituri region in the northeastern DR Congo in 2002-2003.
But Ntaganda, who is believed to be in his 40s, is accused of having once again recruited under-age fighters in the North Kivu region during the rebellion last year.
According to UN investigators, Ntaganda has managed to amass considerable wealth by running a large extortion empire in North Kivu, running rogue checkpoints and taxing the area’s many mines.
Neighbouring states have regularly been accused of meddling in the eastern DR Congo to gain control of its valuable minerals.